It will be difficult to deny Tony Ferguson his shot at Ultimate Fighting Championship gold after his latest performance.
“El Cucuy” left little to the imagination in pocketing a unanimous decision over former champion Rafael dos Anjos in the UFC Fight Night 98 “Ferguson vs. Dos-Anjos” headliner (online betting) on Saturday at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City. Ferguson (22-3, 12-1 UFC) carried all three scorecards with 48-47 marks, as he posted his ninth win in a row -- a record for the UFC lightweight division.
Dos Anjos (25-9, 14-7 UFC) held off “The Ultimate Fighter 13” winner with leg kicks at the start but lost his way as the bout progressed. Ferguson strung together two- and three-punch combinations and mixed in the occasional spinning backfist and standing elbow to keep the Brazilian off-balance. His jab and leg kicks were also effective. It all took a toll on dos Anjos, who suffered significant damage to his right eye and nose. He slowed down Ferguson in the third round with a head kick, straight left hands and slick counters but could not sustain his success, as “El Cucuy” simply brought too much firepower to the table.
Ferguson buckled dos Anjos’ knees twice in Round 4, first with a knee strike to the face and later with a right hook upstairs. He worked punches to the body and head over the final five minutes, incorporating left hooks and uppercuts as he pulled away in the championship rounds.
Sanchez Spoils Held Debut
“The Ultimate Fighter 1” winner Diego Sanchez kept Father Time at bay yet again, as he earned a unanimous decision over Bellator MMA veteran Marcin Held in the lightweight co-main event. All three cageside judges sided with Sanchez (27-9, 16-8 UFC): 29-28, 29-28 and 29-27.
Held (22-5, 0-1 UFC) ran out of gas after enjoying significant success in the first round. Sanchez escaped the Polish grappler’s leg locks in the second, settled in guard and sent elbows plunging into his face and body. By the time the third round started, Held was exhausted. Sanchez sprawled out of a takedown, scrambled into top position and applied his ground-and-pound. Held was powerless to stop it and watched helplessly as his organizational debut took a turn for the worse.
Sanchez’s 16 victories inside the Octagon tie him for sixth on the UFC’s all-time list with Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Jim Miller, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Gleison Tibau and Frank Mir.
Lamas Guillotine Taps Oliveira
MMA Masters representative Ricardo Lamas submitted Charles Oliveira with a second-round guillotine choke in a featured catchweight contest at 155 pounds. Oliveira (21-7, 9-7 UFC) -- who missed weight for the fight by a whopping nine pounds -- bowed out 2:13 into Round 2.
Victory did not come easy for Lamas (17-5, 8-3 UFC). Oliveira executed a takedown midway through the first round and threatened with a brabo choke before wheeling to the Chicago native’s back. The Macaco Gold Team star then softened Lamas with elbows and cinched a rear-naked choke in the waning seconds. Had the bell not sounded, Lamas likely would have been forced to submit.
Oliveira grabbed another takedown at the start of the middle stanza, only to be swept. Lamas settled in side control and caught the guillotine when the Brazilian attempted to scramble on top. After a brief struggle, Oliveira conceded defeat.
Bravo Dispatches Puelles in ‘Ultimate Fighter’ Final
Entram Gym standout Martin Bravo cut down Claudio Puelles with second-round punches in “The Ultimate Fighter Latin America 3” lightweight final. Puelles (7-2, 0-1 UFC) short-circuited 1:55 into Round 2, his modest two-fight winning streak having run its course.
Bravo (11-0, 1-0 UFC) forced the issue, made the Peruvian uncomfortable and overwhelmed him with pressure. The unbeaten 23-year-old assaulted Puelles with accurate, multi-punch combinations to the body and head, neutralized his takedowns and controlled the standup exchanges. Early in the second round, Bravo folded Puelles with a pair of left hooks to the liver and pounced with punches until referee Keith Peterson had seen enough.
Dariush Halts Magomedov Run
Kings MMA’s Beneil Dariush won for the seventh time in eight appearances, as he took a unanimous verdict from former M-1 Global champion Rashid Magomedov in a featured attraction at 155 pounds. Dariush (14-2, 8-2 UFC) swept the scorecards with 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 marks from the judges.
Magomedov (19-2, 4-1 UFC) had his moments but too few of them to make a difference. Dariush hammered him with heavy body kicks, attacked with knees from the Thai clinch and bottled up the Russian striker along the fence. Perhaps sensing the need for the finish, Magomedov upped his aggression over the final five minutes but never managed to place his opponent in real peril.
The loss snapped Magomedov’s 12-fight winning streak.
Unbeaten Grasso Downs Clark
Unbeaten blue-chip prospect Alexa Grasso made a successful jump from Invicta Fighting Championships to the UFC, as she captured a unanimous decision from Heather Clark in a three-round women’s strawweight showcase. All three cageside judges scored it for Grasso (9-0, 1-0 UFC): 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28.
Clark (7-6, 1-2 UFC) fought well in spurts but ran into trouble in the first round. Grasso clipped her with a head kick, followed with a knee and then cut loose with punches to the body and head. Clark emerged from the flurry battered, bloodied and suffering from an apparent broken nose. Grasso’s output dwindled in the second and third rounds, but she outmaneuvered the Xtreme Couture rep in close quarters and performed admirably in all phases.
Perez Withstands Arantes, Extends Streak
Takedowns, ground-and-pound and superiority in the scrambles spurred Alliance MMA export Erik Perez to a split decision over Felipe Arantes in a preliminary catchweight match at 138 pounds. All three cageside judges scored it 29-28, two of them giving Perez the nod.
Arantes (18-8-1, 5-4-1 UFC) nearly finished it with a heel hook in the first round, threatened with a rear-naked choke in the second and cinched an arm-triangle choke in the closing seconds of the third. In the spaces in between, Perez (17-6, 7-2 UFC) made the most of his opportunities. He snatched well-timed takedowns, battered Arantes with elbows from top position and drained valuable time off the clock, doing just enough to squeak by on the scorecards.
Perez, 26, has won three in a row.
Soto Heel Hook Submits Beltran
Onetime Bellator MMA titleholder Joe Soto submitted Marco Beltran with a first-round heel hook in an undercard catchweight encounter at 140 pounds. A short-notice fill-in for Guido Cannetti, Soto (17-5, 2-3 UFC) coaxed the tapout 1:37 into Round 1.
Soto secured an early takedown and rolled for a kneebar when “The Ultimate Fighter Latin America 1” semifinalist tried to scramble to a more advantageous position. The Californian bailed on his initial attempt and locked down the heel hook for the finish.
Beltran (8-4, 3-1 UFC) had no choice but to tap, the loss snapping his three-fight winning streak.
Griffin Blitzes Montano for 54-Second Stoppage
Former Tachi Palace Fights champion Max Griffin needed a little less than a minute to put away Erick Montano with punches in a preliminary welterweight tilt. Montano (7-5, 1-2 UFC) succumbed to blows 54 seconds into Round 1.
Griffin (13-3, 1-1 UFC) dazed the Bonebreakers Team standout with an overhand right, shoved him to the mat and swarmed with unanswered punches. Montano was not able to recover, necessitating the stoppage from referee Jerin Valel.
The 30-year-old Griffin has won nine of his last 11 bouts.
Andrade Backfist Stops Briones
Jungle Fight veteran Douglas Silva de Andrade disposed of Enrique Briones with a standing elbow and spinning backfist in the third round of their entertaining undercard scrap at 135 pounds. Andrade (24-1, 2-1 UFC) brought it to a close 2:33 into Round 3.
Briones (16-6-1, 1-2 UFC) focused on the body and ripped into the Brazilian’s midsection with thudding hooks. Andrade was undeterred. The 31-year-old worked behind a stinging jab, fired away with two- and three-punch combinations and landed the far more damaging blows. He dropped Briones to a knee with a counter right hook in the second round and picked up where he left off in the third. There, Andrade withstood a volley of punches along the fence, staggered Briones with a standing elbow and then floored him with a spinning backfist that prompted referee Keith Peterson to act.
Alvey Decisions Nicholson, Wins Third Straight
Former Maximum Fighting Championship titleholder Sam Alvey registered his third consecutive victory with a unanimous decision over Alex Nicholson in a preliminary middleweight pairing. Alvey (29-8, 6-3 UFC) swept the scorecards with 29-28 marks from all three judges.
Nicholson (7-3, 1-2 UFC) kicked effectively to the legs, head and body throughout much of the first round and staggered the Team Quest export with a counter left hook in the second. Momentum, however, proved fleeting. Alvey’s weaponized left hand found the mark over and over again as he pushed the fight deeper and Nicholson’s output dwindled. Both men were sucking wind by the end of Round 3, the altitude taking a noticeable toll.
Surging Reyes Edges Novelli
Alliance MMA rep Marco Polo Reyes continued his surge with a split decision over Titan Fighting Championship and King of the Cage veteran Jason Novelli in a three-round undercard battle at 155 pounds. All three cageside judges cast 29-28 scorecards, two of them siding with Reyes.
Reyes (7-3, 3-0 UFC) overcame a slow start to piece together a strong second round, where he kept Novelli on his back foot, countered a takedown into top position and piled up points with his ground-and-pound. Round 3 was headed down a similar path -- Reyes sent his counterpart’s mouthpiece flying with an overhand right at one point -- but Novelli (11-3-1, 0-2 UFC) turned the tide with a little less than a minute left. He secured a takedown, advanced to mount and mixed his punches with the threat of a rear-naked choke. It was not enough to alter the outcome.
The 31-year-old Reyes has rattled off four straight wins.
Barzola Overwhelms Outmatched Avila
Repeated takedowns and steady ground-and-pound carried “The Ultimate Fighter Latin America 2” winner Enrique Barzola to a unanimous decision over Chris Avila in a preliminary featherweight affair. All three cageside scored it the same: 30-26 for Barzola (12-3-1, 2-1 UFC).
Avila (5-4, 0-2 UFC) was limited to occasional counterpunches and single strikes from the outside. Barzola beat up Avila’s legs with kicks, struck for multiple takedowns in all three rounds, controlled his opponent on the canvas and slowly drained the steam out of the Californian. By the time the fight reached the third round, Avila looked like a man who had resigned himself to defeat.