Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) made its triumphant return to action last night (Sat., May 9, 2020) as UFC 249 went down from inside Vystar Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida. The pay-per-view (PPV) event, however, was dealt a concerning blow one day before fight night when Ronaldo Souza and two of his cornermen tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the cancelation of his fight against Uriah Hall. UFC 249 was the promotion’s first event in two months because of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, and the event delivered with one action-packed bout after another. In the headlining act, Justin Gaethje defeated Tony Ferguson via fifth round technical knockout to win the interim Lightweight title (see it again here). In the co-main event, Henry Cejudo stopped former Bantamweight champion, Dominick Cruz, to retain his 135-pound strap with just two seconds remaining in round two (recap).
Biggest Winner: Justin Gaethje
For all of the knockouts and post-fight bonus awards Gaethje has on his resume (nine in seven Octagon appearances), this was the most impressive performance of his mixed marital arts (MMA) career. In taking on Ferguson, “Highlight” was facing a man who hadn’t lost in eight years, a proven tough nut to crack and the best 155-pound fighter in the world not named Khabib Nurmagomedov. But for nearly five rounds, Gaethje proved that he doesn’t necessarily have to recklessly go full speed ahead with no brakes to win a fight. Yes, Gaethje was throwing heaters, looking for the knockout blow any chance he saw, but what was impressive about his performance was that while he was aggressive when he needed to be, he was also poised and tactical when the occasion called for it. Gaethje threw everything but the kitchen sink at “El Cucuy,” but Ferguson just on kept coming. Realizing Ferguson wasn’t going to go down easy, Gaethje dialed it down when he had to, picking his shots carefully, connecting on just about every counter that came his way. In doing so, he left Ferguson battered, bruised and broken, eventually collecting his fourth straight stoppage thanks to a crushing blow right on “El Cucuy’s” nose to win his first-ever UFC title. It really was a beautiful performance by the most violent man in the game. Now, he gets the biggest test of them all, a title unification match against “The Eagle” later this year.
Runner Up: Henry Cejudo
While he may be the king of cringe, Cejudo proved that he is without a doubt one of the best and most complete fighters in the sport today. He also defended both titles (Flyweight and Bantamweight) at least once after knocking out Cruz in the second frame. With the win, Cejudo’s last four wins have come over Demetrious Johnson, T.J. Dillashaw, Marlon Moraes and now Cruz, the man many consider to be the best 135-pound fighter ever. That’s a feat no other 135-pound combatant will likely ever accomplish. After his win, “Triple C” stunned the world by announcing his abrupt retirement. It’s a shocking announcement to say the least, as Cejudo is just 33 years old and on top of the game. While the selfish person in me would love nothing more than to see Cejudo keep going just to see how much further he can go, if the man feels it’s time to walk away on top much like John Elway, Michael Jordan (the first time), and Rocky Marciano before him, then no one should try to convince him otherwise. For all the pre-fight gimmicks and cringy trash talk, Cejudo will go down as one of the all-time greats, even if we didn’t get to see as much of him inside the Octagon as we would’ve liked.
Biggest Loser: Jeremy Stephens
I can’t give this to Ferguson, even though he may have lost his chance to face Khabib Nurmagomedov once and for all. Because despite getting out-classed and eventually stopped by Gaethje, “El Cucuy’s” performance was far from disappointing. The man showed heart and grit and took shots that would’ve knocked out pretty much anyone else. This spot goes to Jeremy Stephens, who — after missing weight by a whopping five pounds — wound up getting knocked out by Calvin Kattar in their Catchweight bout. While losing via devastating, and bloody knockout isn't anything to be ashamed of, that was Stephens' fourth straight loss, the longest of his career, as well as his record-setting seventeenth defeat inside the Octagon. Now don't get it twisted, Stephens’ last four defeats have come against the cream of the crop, so that is nothing to hang his head low over. But at the end of the day, UFC is a business and losing four straight isn't the best of things to have on your resume ... especially if a fighter is looking for another deal and/or a raise. Missing weight didn't help Stephens’ cause, either. Now, “Lil Heathen” heads back to the drawing board to see if he can right his ship before it starts taking on more water.
For complete UFC 249 results and coverage click here.