This Friday, a spectacular card is sandwiched between two other excellent ones, and airs live on FS1 (7 p.m. ET). Top featherweights Frankie Edgar and Chad Mendes will battle for a scheduled five rounds in the main event to decide who faces the winner of Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor.
Below that, lightweight contenders Edson Barboza and Tony Ferguson lock up, and underrated tough outs Joe Lauzon and Evan Dunham match up in a hard-to-pick showdown.
Frankie Edgar (18-4-1) vs. Chad Mendes (17-3)
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This fight is one of the most closely matched and hard to predict as any we’ve seen in the UFC over the past several years. Edgar is a former lightweight champion who has a razor-close decision loss to featherweight champion Jose Aldo.
Mendes also had a close decision loss to Aldo in October 2014, and probably gave Aldo the toughest fight of his WEC or UFC run. Mendes has the punching power, and Edgar has some of the best footwork and hand speed and volume in the sport.
Both men are great but different types of wrestlers. Mendes times powerful double-leg takedowns beautifully, and Frankie also mixes in single-legs and trips.
Mendes may be fighting too soon after getting hurt and stopped by Conor McGregor in July. If he’s close to his full self, however, he could find success taking down Edgar, if he can catch him.
Both men typically have superb conditioning, but Edgar keeps a fast pace, constantly, which has to be tough to deal with. I think that either someone will go out after eating a big shot (which could happen for or to either man), or the quicker, better-timed guy will score more often and win a decision.
Edgar’s timing and accuracy with his punches, as well as the way he specifically throws strikes on separation or when opponents guess wrong (say, for example, when thinking he’s going to shoot for a takedown, but he instead chooses to punch) equal striking power. Mendes’ strength in his hips and legs give him his power, though he’s also one of the quicker athletes at featherweight.
Prediction: It’s too close to call, but we think Edgar’s footwork and angles could lead him to a decision win.
Edson Barboza (16-3) vs. Tony Ferguson (20-3)
Boy is this a good fight. Barboza is scary with his unpredictable and long strikes on the feet. Ferguson has excellent wrestling, solid boxing and great front chokes on the ground.
It won’t be easy, but if Ferguson can avoid getting clipped badly on the feet, corner and get a hold of Barboza, and do so repeatedly, he stands a good chance to win a decision or submission victory.
Prediction: Ferguson by second-round submission.
Joe Lauzon (24-11) vs. Evan Dunham (15-6)
Dunham doesn’t get credit for how great of a fighter he is. He’s typically only lost to the very best, and some of those official losses should probably be considered wins.
Take as example his fantastic and competitive 2013 fight against current lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos. The fight took place in dos Anjos’ native Brazil and he got the hometown decision, but Dunham seemed to get better as the fight wore on and seemed to have deserved the nod from the judges.
Similarly, Dunham lost a decision in 2010 to former champion Sean Sherk that could have easily gone his way. Other than that, Dunham has gotten caught with big strikes, which happens to most everyone.
When he’s at his best, Dunham is a sharp boxer with good takedown defense and an absolutely lethal Brazilian jiu-jitsu game. He also has a good chin.
The same can be said for Lauzon. This is a tough fight for Joe, in part because one of the few ways opponents have been able to successfully disturb Dunham’s rhythm on the feet is with the frequent use of kicks and knees.
Joe doesn’t throw many kicks, but he could very well use another element that has worked for Dunham’s opponents: foot movement. If Joe moves well and changes his levels well with strikes and takedown fakes and attempts, he could prevent the always confident Dunham from settling in and getting comfortable on the feet.
Joe angles-out well after punch combinations, and though he can often wade in with punches, exposing himself, mixing in level-changes while he throws punch barrages could make him unpredictable.
Dunham will want to try and keep Lauzon at bay with his jab, frustrate takedown attempts, and threaten with front chokes. Lauzon is a faster starter than Dunham, and if he can press the Las Vegas fighter without exposing his back or neck, he could put him on his heels and end up pressuring his way to a win.
Unless someone connects with a big strike right on the button, early, this is going to be a tough fight for either man to win. Whoever moves better, more quickly, and leaves less openings likely will give themselves the best chance to win down the stretch.
From there, the better conditioned guy will have the advantage.