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UFC 216: Tony Ferguson wins interim lightweight title with submission over Kevin Lee

Tony Ferguson claimed the interim lightweight title on Saturday. (John Locher/AP)
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UFC 216 kicked off from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday with a somber note, acknowledging the 58 lives lost last weekend when Stephen Paddock rained bullets down on music festival attendees across the street from the Mandalay Bay resort and casino. Less than a week later and just blocks away, UFC opened its doors to first responders and more than once alluded to the event during the pay-per-view. Despite the circumstances, the event was far from somber. In fact, it was business as usual for the fighters who entered the Octagon on Saturday. Here’s what happened.

Tony Ferguson def. Kevin Lee via submission (triangle choke), Round 3, 4:02

It was Grade A beef coming into this fight between Vegas-odds favorite Ferguson and the underdog Lee. And it looked like the hate between these two fighters was real. After the bell rang to end the first round, Lee, who had a high mount on Ferguson, continued to wallop his opponent, causing referee Herb Dean to issue him a warning.  In the end, it was Ferguson who proved victorious and was crowned the interim lightweight champion with his submission of Lee, who said after the fight he was fighting off a staph infection in his chest.

Lee congratulated Ferguson after the bout, but not before he broke down and wept after he was forced to tap out. Meanwhile, Ferguson played along, but maintained the bravado he came into the fight with.

“This fight went exactly the way I wanted it to,” Ferguson said, noting he goaded Lee to come in aggressive and waste his energy early. But it wasn’t Lee whom Ferguson wanted to talk about.

“Where you at, McNuggets?!” Ferguson screamed into the mic in a vulgarity-laced message to Conor McGregor, who holds the lightweight title. “Defend or vacate, [expletive]!”

McGregor, who has said he plans to return to the UFC, announced last week that he’d be studying Saturday night’s main event closely. It’s unclear, however, whether Ferguson will go on to face McGregor next or be forced to defend the interim title while the Irishman takes an extended hiatus following August’s blockbuster boxing match against Floyd Mayweather. In any case, it gets the ball rolling in the long-dormant division as McGregor prepares for his inevitable return to the Octagon.

Conor McGregor says he’s done prizefighting, wants to ‘legitimize’ UFC title

McGregor, of course, likely wasn’t the only lightweight fighter watching the action. Chances are fan favorite Khabib Nurmagomedov also be tuned in to see who earned the interim title, as he was originally supposed to face Ferguson for it earlier this year before he fell ill. Now, injury has kept him sidelined.

Demetrious Johnson def. Ray Borg via submission (armbar), Round 5, 3:05

It’s official. Demetrious Johnson has surpassed Anderson Silva as the UFC fighter with the most title defenses. With his defeat of Borg, the fighter nicknamed Mighty Mouse now has 11 title defenses, which is even more astounding when you consider he has never headlined a UFC pay-per-view. What Johnson may lack in star power, however, he makes up for with enough prowess in the Octagon for the promotion to rank him its No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter. Johnson proved that again Saturday when he dominated the fight from start to finish, even at one point shrugging off Borg, who had mounted him from the back like a static-clinging cardigan.

That Borg lasted as long as he did was actually quite astounding, especially considering he landed just one strike to Johnson’s 62 in the first two rounds. While ultimately fruitless, Borg put up one heck of a fight against Johnson, even sneaking in a body slam in the middle rounds.

Exhaustion caught up with Borg, however, while Johnson looked like he could go several more rounds by the time the fifth and final round came along. It was only a matter of time before he caught Borg in a vicious armbar, which he started locking in midair because Demetrious Johnson is ridiculous.

“I hit that suplex-to-armbar so many times in the gym,” Johnson said after the fight. “I threw [Borg] in the air like a bag of potatoes.”

Fabricio Werdum def. Walt Harris via submission (armbar), Round 1, 1:05

Oof. That was kind of cringeworthy. Anyone tuning in can take comfort in the fact, however, to know this was not a match that was supposed to happen. Harris was originally slated to perform in the prelims, but when Werdum’s original opponent was scrapped just hours before the show on Saturday due to a late injury, Harris stepped up. Who wouldn’t want to cash in on a little bit of that PPV money? Of course, it came at a price. Werdum, a former heavyweight champion who clearly has still got it, dropped Harris to the mat, where he schooled him in a lesson of why you never want to drop to the mat with Werdum.

“There are levels to this game,” commentator and light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier said after the bout ended in Lewis tapping out to an armbar just over a minute into the first round.

Harris at least proved he’s got guts. We’ll see him again.

Mara Romero Borella def. Kalindra Faria via submission (rear-naked choke), Round 1, 2:54

This wasn’t a bout. This was a master class in jujitsu put on by Romera Borella, who asserted herself as a top pick for when the UFC crowns its first women’s flyweight champion in the near future. Her fifth first-round finish in a row, Romero Borella began with a flawless takedown, which she effortlessly transitioned into a mount and back mount, controlling her opponent’s wrists to eventually sneak her arm beneath Faria’s neck to secure the submission.

“It’s a dream for me,” Romero Borella said through an Italian translator in the Octagon after the win. “I’m here. I’m here to stay. I’m very very happy.”

Beneil Dariush vs. Evan Dunham declared a majority draw (29-28, 28-28, 28-28)

The second draw of the night following the thrilling Vannata vs. Green fight in the prelims, this one was just as exciting. Dariush took the fist round handily, but couldn’t hold his momentum, allowing Dunham to come back with a vengeance in the second and third rounds. There were several close calls during the fight that could’ve resulted in knockouts or submissions for either side, but both men’s scrappiness and durability allowed the time to continue ticking down till, oh well, there wasn’t any left, leading two of the judges to call the bout a draw.


  • Cody Stamann def. Tom Duquesnoy via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 30-27)
  • Lando Vannata and Bobby Green declared a split draw (29-27, 27-29, 28-28)
  • Poliana Botelho def. Pearl Gonzalez via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
  • Matt Schnell def. Marco Beltran via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 30-27)


  • Walt Harris vs. Mark Godbeer
  • John Moraga def. Magomed Bibulatov via KO (punch), Round 1, 1:38
  • Brad Tavares def. Thales Leites via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-26, 30-26)