TUF LA 3: Rafael dos Anjos vs. Tony Ferguson Toe to Toe Preview – A Complete Breakdown

RDA tries to fight his way back toward the title against LW action phenom Tony Ferguson this November 5, 2016 at the Arena Ciudad de…

By: David Castillo | 6 years ago
TUF LA 3: Rafael dos Anjos vs. Tony Ferguson Toe to Toe Preview – A Complete Breakdown
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

RDA tries to fight his way back toward the title against LW action phenom Tony Ferguson this November 5, 2016 at the Arena Ciudad de México in Mexico City, Mexico.

One sentence summary

Phil: When pure insanity fights blunt brutality, to step back is to die.

David: The race to McGregorweight begins.


Record: Rafael dos Anjos 25-8 Tony Ferguson 22-3

Odds: Rafael dos Anjos -140 Tony Ferguson +120

History / Introduction to the fighters

Phil: RDA has had a tumultuous up-down career with regards to public perception. A hyped up prospect who got knocked out by Jeremy Stephens; a journeyman who overperformed in his run to the title. He was just about settling into his role as a deserving champion when he got knocked out in one round. This together with the broken foot which took him out of an incredible McGregor payday meant that he’s had a pretty unlucky run of it of late. I don’t think he’ll let it affect him that much, though, because (as we’ll get into later), I think he’s a man of singularly little imagination. Not for RDA the existential hall of mirrors which comes with a bad loss, where doubt and worry are the main things to doubt and worry about. I don’t believe he works like that.

David: Singularly little imagination? Damn, Phil. Criticize his mother’s looks while you’re at it. I agree though. He reminds me of Gene Hackman’s words to Denzel Washington in what I believe is the best Hollywood summer film of all time in Crimson Tide: “just stick a cattle prod up their ass and you can get a horse to deal cards”. In that way, RDA is a unique one track minded specimen: beholden to kinesthetic efficiency. Psychology doesn’t even enter into the picture for the uniquely browed Brazilian.

Phil: I generally ascribe to the theory that fighting style is a reflection of personality. Ferguson’s is built around manic self-belief. A bit like McGregor’s, but without the sense of humour. Whether he’s kicking a heavy bag to death wearing shades or wearing a suit to weigh-ins, it’s all part of this fevered obsession of being THE MOST AWESOME BADASS EVER, one which is simply too large and all-consuming to be able to notice itself. That’s alright though, because it also lends itself to making Ugly Tony a human buzzsaw who granby rolls, D’Arce chokes and punches with no thoughts for his own mortality.

David: I don’t know if Ferguson is Ryan Reynolds, or Jai Courtney. Does he have the golden blockbuster in him? Ferguson is a question mark as far as elite talent goes. I mean, he’s an elite fighter. But a guy who can perennially contend, like Carlos Condit, or Joseph Benavidez? I don’t know. Despite all the question marks, there’s nothing hollow about his resume. He’s racked up wins against some serious competition in dominating fashion. I’m just still trying to figure out that fight with ‘Groovy’ at Sioux Falls.

What’s at stake?

Phil: Big stakes for the lightweight division. McGregor fights Alvarez in UFC 205 next week, and the winner of this one may well have next, depending on how well they perform, and who wins out of that fight. I think Ferguson is a bit more saleable to the UFC and would be riding a huge and exciting winstreak, which would make him a bit less likely to get leapfrogged by, say, Khabib. McGregor himself represents something of a Fairness Distortion Field, and so a potential Conor win opens up less “legitimate” options: in the unlikely event that no-one distinguishes himself (for example, RDA wins a top control decision and Johnson outboxes Khabib for three) the UFC could even try and crowbar in Diaz-McGregor 3.

David: Hell, Diaz-McGregor 3 is its own Distortion Field. Ferguson needs to win big to earn his keep at McGregorweight. Otherwise, a fight with RDA doesn’t mean much to the UFC. It’s the kind of eat your vegetables matchup Zuffa has been allergic to since time immemorial.

Where do they want it?

Phil: The fascinating yet obvious fact about this matchup is that both men almost have to be moving forward to be successful. Neither is a defensive wizard, and the majority of their shot selections and approaches are built around forcing the opponent to go backwards.

So first up we have RDA. He is by far the simpler of the two, being largely pared down to a brutal left straight, right hook, and left kick to the leg and body. He has a nicely timed double leg and is a destroyer from top position. He is a useful type of pressure fighter- the one who doesn’t think enough to be afraid. This isn’t to say that he’s a stupid man, merely that he is very, very one-track.

In this way, it’s extremely difficult to scare him off. He reminds me of a scene in an old comic I used to read about a barbarian called Slaine. At one point a multidimensional demon reveals himself to Slaine in all his sanity-destroying horror… and Slaine doesn’t really care, because he’s too unimaginative. Thus, of the two fighters, while RDA is probably weaker when moving backwards, he is also likely to be harder to convince that he should move in that direction.

David: I didn’t read comics as a kid, preferring the trading cards as my lore over the faux-literature of comics. But your taste in comics fascinates me. I went to wikipedia and learned words like ‘Brainbiter’ and ‘warp spasm’. Thanks bruv. RDA is a hype version of Gleisen Tibau. He’s a great pressure fighter in a tactician’s body. I’ve never thought of Rafael as dynamic, so much as propulsive. He looks for the finish in every facet of the game, and few fighters in the entire sport play a better stripped down version of punch or submit game of chicken than RDA.

Phil: Ferguson is in no way a flawless fighter, but it’s very difficult for opponents to capitalize on those flaws before they’re buried under offense. He tends to step and march with his punching combinations, which are concealed with stance switches. He has a mean snap kick to the body and a cracking leg kick, but he doesn’t set them up well. Outside of outlandish rolls for kneebars, he’s not much of a takedown threat, but he packs characteristically funky takedown defense: he snaps down and attacks any takedown which is too low and rolls through any which is too high.

He’s enormous and packed with physical advantages: cardio, power, Cheater Arms, seemingly razor-sharp bones, and excellent durability.

David: Ferguson’s style wavers between eccentric and quixotic. At his worst, like in the Vannata fight, he’s letting his indulgences dictate his strategy. At best, his indulgences are mapped out by his lust for violence (as opposed to his lust for showmanship). I don’t really know that any one tactical or mechanical asset stands out of his. What allows his fight features to violently bloom in the cage is his dexterity: the ability to maneuver different attacks at traditional and not so traditional angles. He’s a product of the geography he creates.

Insight from Past Fights

Phil: I came into this fight expecting to pick Ferguson. He’s younger, more durable, has freaky arms and has momentum behind him. A few things gave me pause- mainly, seeing how much a lot of RDA’s success (against Diaz, Pettis, Cerrone etc) has been slipping past lazy jabs and crushing them with the straight or the right hook, and then seeing how much trouble Ferguson has traditionally gotten into when opponents slip and counter. His tendency to always step in and march with his punches and his inconsistent head movement when doing so means that slipping to the outside and hitting him with a left hand has been particularly successful. This is RDA’s bread and butter.

The other factor is how willing Ferguson has been to concede top position to his opponents and work for submissions. Someone who beat the crap out of Nate Diaz and Donald Cerrone on the mat is not someone you want on top of you.

David: I’m glad you avoided talking about Vannata. That was such a product of Ferguson fighting in proportion to the status of his opponent. Still, it says something about Ferguson’s instincts. Defensively, he struggles to establish a consistent method of counterattacking. Some of this is a result of not always having a defined path towards pressure. But RDA takes a few too many cues from Renan Barao: when pushed, RDA gets clumsy in close quarter combat.


Phil: We’ve covered the altitude elsewhere, so I think it’s got to be Dos Anjos’ move away from Kings (who essentially moulded him into the fighter he is today) and towards setting up his own training camp.

David: I can’t think of many examples where this works out in a longitudinal way. For all of his erratic flair inside the cage, he’s a philosophically focused fighter.


Phil: As said, I expected to pick Ferguson, and this fight has so many facets which could go either way. When two incredibly offensively potent fighters collide, chaos is almost a certainty… but… I started to feel watching the tape that RDA is actually a pretty bad matchup for Ferguson. Perhaps his worst. This doesn’t mean that Tony isn’t a certified elite fighter, but RDA’s ability to kill Tony’s entries, and his ability to work on top against even elite grappers are both powerful tools against Ferguson’s game. Whoever wins will likely start to snowball away with the fight, so Rafael dos Anjos by TKO, round 2.

David: I agree with all of your intelligent analysis, but MMA isn’t an intelligent sport. The first two minutes will be a game of chicken, and I suspect that Tony’s style is the stronger of the two at enduring the first ‘collision’. RDA is slow to reset during exchanges, which Tony’s reach can capitalize on. As strong as dos Anjos is, I don’t see him breaking Tony with that first left, or body kick. Tony Ferguson by Decision

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