The specter of UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor looms large over UFC 216. In the main event, Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee will fight for the interim lightweight title, even though the winner might never receive a chance to challenge McGregor. Both fighters are riding winning streaks and deserving of a title shot in one of MMA's deepest divisions.
Ferguson and Lee have distinct styles, and these differences will likely lead to some interesting wrinkles on Saturday night. The following is a look at the statistical categories that highlight these differences and could turn out to be the determining factors on fight night.
Due to his offensive striking prowess, Ferguson has a sizeable advantage in terms of striking differential. He absorbs 3.43 significant strikes per minute from his opponents, but he lands 5.23 per minute. This leaves him with a +1.79 striking differential, which is good enough for second best among ranked lightweights, behind only Evan Dunham (2.3). Lee does slightly better defensively, as he only absorbs 2.99 significant strikes per minute, but he is well behind Ferguson in terms of offensive striking (3.60) and thus only has a +0.59 striking differential. In order for Lee to have a chance in this fight, he will need to find a way to slow down Ferguson's striking attacks.
A lot of Ferguson's offensive striking success is due to his output, which can overwhelm opponents and impress judges. He attempts 12.34 significant strikes per minute. On top of that, Ferguson is fairly accurate, as he lands 42 percent of his significant strike attempts. Lee attempts only 8.67 significant strikes per minute. To be successful, Lee will need to get this fight on the ground in order to avoid a continual striking onslaught from Ferguson.
Not only would scoring takedowns allow Lee to avoid strikes from Ferguson, it would also put him in an advantageous offensive position. In the UFC, 31 percent of Lee's landed significant strikes have come on the ground. On the other hand, Ferguson is much more of a standup oriented fighter, as 93 percent of his significant strikes come at distance or in the clinch. If Lee can take the fight to the ground, it could potentially neutralize Ferguson while also providing "The Motown Phenom" an optimal opportunity to score with strikes.
Lee is only slightly above average in terms of takedown accuracy. In the UFC, he has landed only 41 percent of his takedown attempts. However, what he lacks in efficiency, he makes up for with volume. He is an extremely active and persistent takedown threat. He averages 8.35 takedown attempts per 15 minutes of which time, which has allowed him to land 60 takedowns in 11 UFC fights. Dragging Ferguson to the ground will not be an easy task. Ferguson stops 81 percent of his opponents' attempts, and he has only been taken down seven times in the UFC. Even if Lee is able to wrestle Ferguson to the ground, he might struggle to land offense. In 13 UFC fights, Ferguson has only absorbed 17 significant ground strikes. However, takedowns still need to be an essential element in order for Lee to pull out the victory.