Tony Ferguson appeared to be in trouble early in his UFC 216 main event bout against Las Vegan Kevin Lee on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena.
Ferguson insists it was all part of the plan.
“This went exactly how I wanted,” he said after winning the interim lightweight title with a third-round submission. “I wanted him to come at me and use all that aggression and have nothing left to defend the submission. I knew I had to weather the storm and he would use all his energy.”
Also on the card, Demetrious Johnson broke the record for consecutive successful title defenses in UFC history with a spectacular fifth-round submission of Ray Borg.
Lee controlled the first round and was blasting Ferguson with punches on the mat as the bell rang. Ferguson started to find a rhythm in the second and then went to work from his back after a Lee takedown in the third.
Ferguson softened Lee up with elbows and almost hit an armbar before locking up a triangle choke to seal the deal at 4:02.
“I underestimated his work from the bottom, especially the elbows,” Lee said. “I thought I came out here and did my best. Tony was better than me tonight. He’s the man. I’ll be back. I’m still young in this game.”
Ferguson is now in line to potentially get a shot at lightweight champ Conor McGregor. But McGregor has talked about fighting Nate Diaz for a third time or moving up to welterweight when he returns to the UFC.
Ferguson has other plans.
“Where you at McNuggets, you (expletive) piece of (expletive)?” he screamed. “You better defend that belt.”
That’s something Johnson has done more than any other fighter in UFC history.
Johnson broke a tie with Anderson Silva by successfully defending his flyweight belt for the 11th consecutive time, ending a dominant performance with a stunning maneuver in which he suplexed Borg and trapped him in an armbar in midair as he fell to the ground.
Borg struggled on the mat before finally succumbing to the maneuver at 3:15 of the final round.
“I hit that suplex to armbar so many times in the gym,” Johnson said. “I’m not in the business of banging heads and taking concussions. I’m in the business of making a fool of you, throwing you in the air like a sack of potatoes, taking your arm as you’re coming down and breaking it on the ground.”
Johnson has held the belt since the flyweight division was created in 2012.
Also on the card, former heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum didn’t let a last-minute opponent switch bother him, as he made quick work of Walt Harris.
Harris agreed to step in for Derrick Lewis, who withdrew from the fight Saturday afternoon because of a back injury.
Werdum quickly worked a takedown and secured an armbar to force the tap at 1:05 of the first round.
Harris had been scheduled to fight Mark Godbeer on the preliminary card, forcing Godbeer off the card in the shuffle.
Werdum hopes the win will be enough to get him another shot at the belt he lost to Stipe Miocic last year.
“I just want the opportunity to fight for the title again,” Werdum said. “A hundred percent I’m going to win it again. This is my biggest goal.”
Mara Romero Borella needed 2:54 to submit women’s flyweight striker Kalindra Faria in the UFC debut for both.
Las Vegan Evan Dunham was in all kinds of trouble after he was almost finished by the punches and elbows of lightweight Beneil Dariush.
He told himself there was no way he was going to lose in front of a hometown crowd after what the city had gone through this past week.
“I’m from Vegas, baby. We don’t give up,” Dunham said after rallying for a majority draw. “We don’t back down. Vegas Strong, baby.”
Dunham had won four straight fights before settling for the draw in a bout that kicked off the main card and followed a tribute featuring victims and first responders in the cage while Everlast performed “America The Beautiful.”
Las Vegan Brad Tavares highlighted the preliminary card with a unanimous decision over middleweight Thales Leites.
“It feels so good to give the rest of these Vegas residents a little bit of something better to think about,” Tavares said after winning his third straight win. “I hope I did that with my fight.”
Lightweights Lando Vannata and Bobby Green fought to a split draw after Vannata was docked a point in the first round for an illegal knee.
Former flyweight title challenger John Moraga needed 1:38 to knock out top prospect Magomed Bibulatov.
Poliana Botelho made a successful UFC debut by taking all three rounds in a unanimous decision over Pearl Gonzalez in a women’s strawweight bout.
Matt Schnell and Cody Stamann won decisions.
Results of Saturday’s main card bouts at T-Mobile Arena:
— Tony Ferguson def. Kevin Lee, submission, third round (4:02), to win interim lightweight title.
— Demetrious Johnson def. Ray Borg, submission, fifth round (3:15), to retain flyweight title.
— Fabricio Werdum def. Walt Harris, heavyweights, submission, first round (1:05).
— Mara Romero Borella def. Kalindra Faria, women’s flyweights, submission, first round (2:54).
— Beneil Dariush vs. Evan Dunham, lightweights, majority draw (29-28 Dariush, 28-28, 28-28).