UFC 256: Vital Crossroads Bout for Ferguson and Oliveira

Tony Ferguson and Charles Oliveira, UFC 256
Tony Ferguson and Charles Oliveira, UFC 256 weigh-in Credit: Gabriel Gonzalez/Cageside Press

Tony Ferguson is looking to reclaim his spot in the lightweight title picture.  Charles Oliveira is trying to finally break into title contention.  Only one can move forward at UFC 256.

You know what Tony Ferguson can do.

Of all the UFC fighter’s in today’s digital age, he is perhaps the one whose legend has most been perpetuated by the internet.  He is the type of guy to do unorthodox training.  He’s left consecutive opponents looking absolutely bloody and battered.  All of it is a reputation he built over a 12 fight win-streak that saw him claim interim gold and cement his place as the 1B of the last several years at lightweight opposite to 1A Khabib Nurmagomedov.  Despite three title fights having been scratched from Saturday’s event, his addition in the eyes of many is more than adequate compensation should he perform as he’s expected to.

Then there’s the facts.  He is coming off his first loss in eight years against Justin Gaethje in May and is looking to mount another run at the lightweight title at 36-years old.  A win would put him right into another title fight, and rightfully so.  But the lightweight title picture is in the midst of arguably its most competitive period in history.  Conor McGregor will fight Dustin Poirier in a little over a month and Michael Chandler is expected to compete against a top-ranked competitor on the same night.  The winners of both bouts will also seemingly lock in a shot at UFC gold in their next outing, leaving no room for Ferguson to make up ground in 2021 should he come up short on Saturday.

Charles “Do Bronx” Oliveira has seemingly spent his entire UFC career trying to reach this moment.  He entered the UFC as an exciting 20-year old prospect in 2010 and quickly made waves with his impressive submission game.  He has had 26 Octagon appearances since then and competed at both lightweight and featherweight.  Unfortunately, his run has also followed a similar pattern of wins and losses that hasn’t seen him get over the proverbial hump to get into title contention.  2015 saw the beginning of his worst stretch as he went 2-4 and it appeared to many that the breakthrough that many expected for the young prospect would simply never happen.

Things subtly began to turn the corner for Oliveira in 2018.  Relegated to the early prelims, he began what has turned into one of the best win streaks in the lightweight division as he has put together a seven fight run.  All of his fights in this streak have ended by some form of stoppage resulting in Oliveira breaking the record for most submissions in UFC history.  Most recently, his skills were put to the test in a headliner for the first event affected by the pandemic.  Expected to be tested by the physically imposing Kevin Lee, the Brazilian went on to overwhelm his foe at home and cement his place amongst the top contenders in the division.  Previously in talks to face Beneil Dariush in October, Oliveira now gets a chance to finally break into the title picture with a win against Ferguson.

Both men have shown impressive submission attacks on the mat, though Oliveira has proven himself to be the more adept at using his grappling in his fights.  Ferguson should be cautious of takedown attempts to avoid being put on his back and be very disciplined while in top position as Oliveira will pounce on any opportunity to secure a limb.  On the feet, Ferguson’s unorthodox attack and forward pressure will give “Do Bronx” the most problems as he will take away a lot of the space Oliveira uses to mount his offense from his more conventional stance.

A victory for Ferguson should punch his ticket to fight for the world title next, whether it be against still reigning champion Khabib Nurmagomedov or a vacant/interim title against the winner of Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier.  Should Oliveira triumph, his title shot will likely depend on the nature of his victory and if it is more impressive than Michael Chandler’s in his UFC debut in 2021.