Never sleep on Tony Ferguson, not even for a minute.
Kevin Lee appeared to be up on the scorecards in his UFC 216 main event against Ferguson on Saturday night. But Ferguson, working from the bottom in the third round, submitted Lee at 4:02 with a triangle choke at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
With the victory, Ferguson won his 10th consecutive bout and claimed the UFC’s interim lightweight championship.
“This went the exact way I wanted it to be,” Ferguson said. “I wanted him to come at me, use all that aggression, leave no energy for that submission.”
Lee underwent a draining weight cut Friday, needing an extra hour to make weight after missing the cutoff on his first attempt.
As such, Lee, who also had a staph infection on his left pectoral, fought like someone who seemed to know he wasn’t going to make it five rounds. Lee got the best of the first round, ending the five-minute stanza raining down punches in top control, including a late blow, which earned a rebuke from referee Herb Dean.
The second round was a back-and-forth affair, with Lee landing power shots, and Ferguson landing a variety of strikes from odd angles.
In the third, Lee went for broke and scored a takedown. But Ferguson transitioned into a nasty armbar. Lee escaped that, but Ferguson landed elbows from the bottom and maneuvered into the winning arm triangle.
“I just knew I had to weather the storm,” Ferguson said of his fellow former Grand Valley State wrestler. “I knew he had to use that energy and have him come off a little more and then use that.”
Ferguson, who hails now Southern California, improved to 23-3, while Detroit’s Lee dropped to 16-3 and had a five-fight win streak snapped.
“I understimated his work from the bottom, the elbows,” Lee said. “What can I say, man? I thought i came out here and gave my best.”