After winning season 13 of The Ultimate Fighter and following it up with wins over Aaron Riley and Yves Edwards, I found myself pretty excited about Tony Ferguson’s potential. Ferguson looked like a fighter who had clean boxing, solid wrestling, and good finishing ability. I thought Ferguson should have been able to defeat Michael Johnson – but what I saw instead was Johnson out-box Ferguson for three rounds. I left that fight muttering to myself “why did I get hyped up about this guy again?”
Since then, Ferguson had a long layoff before returning to submit Mike Rio and knock out Katsunori Kikuno. My reactions to those fights were – well, Rio just isn’t a good fighter and Kikuno thinks fighting like a zombie is a good thing for some reason. Instead of being hyped about Ferguson like I was before, my inclination was to find reasons why I shouldn’t get hyped up about him. However, FPR is throwing a number at me that I can’t ignore: Tony Ferguson is rated the #11 lightweight in the UFC, right behind T.J. Grant, Nate Diaz, and Jim Miller.
Ferguson’s FPR is now +3.41 on the strength of a good offensive striking game and zero “grappling advances” (takedowns, guard passes, submission attempts) allowed to his six UFC opponents. Meanwhile, he’s finished four of his six fights. His one loss was to a very good striker in Johnson, and Ferguson really only had one bad round in that fight.
Still, I find myself skeptical of FPR’s enthusiasm. Besides Johnson, Ferguson hasn’t fought the strongest opponents the UFC has to offer. Wins against Kikuno, Rio, old Yves Edwards, old Aaron Riley, and Ramsey Nijem don’t exactly prove that Ferguson is better than the Josh Thomsons of the world. I also think Ferguson’s 4-0 finish record was aided by getting opponents like Riley who were particularly ripe to be finished.
So I’m not buying Ferguson as a title contending lightweight – yet. His opponent here is Danny Castillo, a fellow wrestler who has made a career out of beating below-average UFC lightweights and losing to above-average UFC lightweights. Castillo is a well-rounded fighter who thrives when his opponent has a glaring weakness. Castillo couldn’t out-wrestle Charlie Brenneman, but he was able to find Brenneman’s chin and win by knockout. He couldn’t out-strike Tim Means, but he was able to take Means down and grind out a decision. He couldn’t trade submissions with Paul Sass, but he was able to stay out of too much trouble while grinding out another decision.
The problem for Castillo is that Ferguson lacks any obvious weakness. If there is a weakness to Ferguson’s game, it’s that his defensive striking is lackluster, but Ferguson often makes up for that with striking volume of his own. I wouldn’t love Ferguson’s chances against a good volume striker or sprawl and brawl type, but Castillo isn’t really either of those things. He’s more of a wrestler/grinder who can win a striking match if his opponent isn’t great at it.
What’s particularly troubling about Castillo leading into this fight is that, just like some of Ferguson’s past opponents, he has a history of being finished. Castillo has been knocked down four times and caught in a whopping 31 submission attempts in the UFC/WEC. That has led to two losses by knockout and two losses by submission. Castillo simply doesn’t match up well against finishers like Ferguson.
I expect Castillo to be competitive in this fight, landing strikes and perhaps one or two takedowns. However, I also think Ferguson will be able to out-pace Castillo standing, with a pretty decent chance of winning by knockout. Unless Castillo can break through Ferguson’s takedown defense consistently, I see him losing by KO or decision.
Pick: Tony Ferguson by TKO