UFC 249, which took place last night (Sat., May 9, 2020) inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla., was a big risk.
When Ronaldo Souza and two of his cornermen tested positive for COVID-19, the situation looked real bad. All sorts of questions popped up about the safety standards, namely revolving around whether it was truly worth holding an event right now. There are significant financial factors forcing UFC’s hand, but it had real potential to backfire.
It still could. We don’t know the full consequences of Souza’s positive test. Also, all the bloody fighters felt up Joe Rogan one after another, which is probably not ideal for preventing transmissions. However, the fighters themselves delivered, and that’s real important. This moment was presented as UFC’s opportunity to shine in front of an extra large audience, and one could hardly craft a better introduction event.
There were a couple mediocre fights, sure. No one is in a rush to watch Carla Esparza vs. Michelle Waterson or Greg Hardy vs. Yorgan de Castro ever again (please keep Hardy off the main card until he’s actually good). But frankly, even that’s a positive — you can’t be a fight fan with tolerating ho-hum fights.
The rest of the card was excellent, highlighting all the different aspects that make mixed martial arts (MMA) great. Bryce Mitchell put on a masterclass in positional grappling on the early “Prelims” card. As all veteran fans expected, Vicente Luque vs. Niko Price was bonkers (watch highlights). Fabricio Werdum and Aleksei Oleinik provided some slick old man Heavyweight violence, a staple of our strange sport. Anthony Pettis and Donald Cerrone showcased how even fighters past their primes are plenty tricky and worth-watching, and that recent losses don’t always mean a fighter is shot.
All that happened on free TV.
For any new fans pulled in to purchase the main card, their hard-earned cash was not wasted. Jeremy Stephens vs. Calvin Kattar was a classic match up, a hard-nosed brawler squaring off with a sharper technical striker, and the eventual finish was an incredible example of timing.
Then, the two title fights. Henry Cejudo proved his greatness (again) with a commanding performance, chopping down the former divisional king and then slamming a knee into his jaw. Justin Gaethje capped it off with perfection, smacking Tony Ferguson with power shots until “El Cucuy” just couldn’t take it anymore (watch highlights).
It may have hurt my heart to see Ferguson — who has been so unlucky in his pursuit of undisputed gold — falter, but that hardly matters to any newcomers. Instead, Gaethje replaced Ferguson as the most compelling challenge to Khabib Nurmagomedov with a single performance.
UFC 249 was the amazing night of fights UFC banked on.
It could still all fall apart in the next few days if enough tests come back positive or a fighter is seriously affected. However, UFC earned itself so much needed goodwill, which leads will into the next event just three days away.
For complete UFC 249 results and coverage click here.