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UFC 249 predictions: ‘Ferguson vs Gaethje’ ESPN ‘Prelims’ undercard preview

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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is bringing a bevy of “Prelims” fights to both UFC Fight Pass/ESPN+ and ESPN this weekend (Sat., May 9, 2020) when UFC 249: “Ferguson vs. Gaethje” storms VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. MMAmania.com’s Patrick Stumberg continues the UFC 249 “Prelims” party with the second (and final) installment of a two-part undercard preview series below.

Two title fights headline UFC’s return this Saturday (May, 9, 2020) as Tony Ferguson takes on Justin Gaethje for the interim Lightweight belt and Dominick Cruz looks to make another dominant return to take Henry Cejudo’s Bantamweight belt. UFC 249, which takes place inside a crowd-free VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla., also features a quartet of Heavyweight knockout artists and what should be mayhem between Jeremy Stephns and Calvin Kattar on the ESPN+streamed pay-per-view (PPV) main card.

Four more UFC 249 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict (check out the first batch here). Shall we?

170 lbs.: Donald Cerrone vs. Anthony Pettis

Following a Welterweight run that started 4-0 and ended on a 2-4 skid, Donald Cerrone (36-14) returned to Lightweight with dominant “Fight of the Night” victories over Alexander Hernandez and Al Iaquinta. He’s yet to taste victory since, suffering three consecutive stoppage losses to Tony Ferguson, Justin Gaethje and Conor McGregor.

His 27 stoppage victories include 17 by submission.

Anthony Pettis (22-10) made an unexpected move to 170 pounds after a loss to Tony Ferguson, which paid immediate dividends as he knocked out Stephen Thompson with a vicious right hand. A subsequent loss to Nate Diaz sent “Showtime” back to 155 pounds, where he suffered the first true submission defeat of his career against Diego Ferreira.

He is the shorter of the two by three inches.

Writing off “Cowboy” because he lost the first fight is a mistake; between his intercepting knee and his wrestling, he absolutely has the skills to exploit Pettis’ lingering flaws. That said, he has to actually survive long enough to use those skills, and that’s proven to be a sticking point against high-level strikers.

Pettis can (and will) blitz Cerrone, and I’m not convinced Cerrone can stop him.

If this goes past the first round, I can easily see “Cowboy” taking over down the stretch. Getting there, though, is too much to ask. Either another body shot or Pettis’ newfound right hand make it 2-0 against his fellow World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) alum.

Prediction: Pettis via first-round technical knockout

265 lbs.: Aleksei Oleinik vs. Fabricio Werdum

Aleksei Oleinik (58-13-1) put together an impressive 6-2 Octagon start, every victory by finish, before falling to Alistair Overeem and Walt Harris in succession. “The Boa Constrictor” went on to start 2020 right with an armbar finish of Maurice Greene, which earned Oleinik his fifth post-fight bonus.

He has submitted a staggering 46 opponents as a professional.

After choking out Cain Velasquez for the Heavyweight title and losing it to Stipe Miocic his next time out, Fabricio (23-8-1) Werdum went on to win three of his next four, the only loss a narrow one to rival Alistair Overeem. A subsequent main event opposite Alexander Volkov didn’t go as smoothly, and a subsequent United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA_ violation added insult to injury.

This will be “Vai Cavalo’s” first fight in more than two years.

I am a huge fan of Oleinik, which is the reason it sucks that he’ll be 1-3 in his last four after this fight. Even if one were to give the Russian’s top game the edge over Werdum’s bottom game, the latter’s takedown defense is more than sufficient to keep things on the feet, where Oleinik’s bull rushes leave him wide open to Werdum’s vicious clinch knees. Oleinik will have to pull guard if he wants to go to the ground on his own terms, and even a rusty, aging “Vai Cavalo” is too adept from the top to leave his neck out like Oleinik’s past victims.

Oleinik’s only real chance is to score a standing finish, which is more feasible than it sounds. Werdum tends to leave his chin up when blitzing with punches and we saw Oleinik decisively punish overextension against Jared Rosholt. Werdum’s stood up to plenty of heavy hitters in the past, though, so expect something akin to Oleinik vs. Overeem as Oleinik struggles for the takedown and gets mauled at point-blank for his trouble.

Prediction: Werdum via first-round technical knockout

115 lbs.: Carla Esparza vs. Michelle Waterson

A controversial decision against Claudia Gadelha and one-sided mauling from Tatiana Suarez snapped a two-fight win streak and resulted in the first back-to-back losses of Carla Esparza’s (15-6) career. “The Cookie Monster” has since gotten back on track with decisions over prospects Virna Jandiroba and Alexa Grasso, earning “Fight of the Night” against the latter.

She is the shorter of the two by two inches but will have a one-inch reach advantage.

Consecutive wins over Cortney Casey, Felice Herrig and Karolina Kowalkiewicz left Michelle Waterson (17-7) knocking on the door of a title shot and set up a final eliminator against Joanna Jedrzejczyk. “The Karate Hottie” struggled with her opponent’s reach and volume striking, ultimately losing a five-round decision.

Five of her nine submission wins have come by armbar.

Even if she’s proven unable to reclaim a spot at the top of the division, Esparza’s wrestling remains among the best at 115 pounds, and she’s developed sufficiently potent striking to at least hold her own against anyone below the elite. Though Waterson still ostensibly has the stand up edge thanks to her kicks, it’s nowhere near as wide as when Esparza first joined the organization, and “The Cookie Monster’s” takedowns pose a far greater threat.

Waterson is admittedly tricky off of her back, but not so much so that Esparza can’t put her there with relative impunity. So long as she doesn’t get sucked into a striking war, Esparza has the tools to cruise to victory with heaps of top control.

Prediction: Esparza via unanimous decision

185 lbs.: Uriah Hall vs. Ronaldo Souza

Uriah Hall (15-9) once again showed off his proclivity for stunning knockouts by wiping out Bevon Lewis with one punch back in 2018, ending a 1-4 skid in the process. A split decision win over Antonio Carlos Junior followed, resulting in “Prime Time’s” first win streak since 2015.

Though shorter than Ronaldo Souza (26-8) by one inch, he’ll enjoy a nearly eight-inch reach advantage.

After a career spent entirely at Middleweight, Souza elected to try his hand at 205 pounds after a rough loss to Jack Hermansson. His divisional debut pitted him again Jan Blachowicz, whom he fought to a controversial split decision loss in Sao Paulo, Brazil, back in Nov. 2019.

He has submitted 14 professional opponents and knocked out another eight.

For the sake of research, I looked back on Hall’s record to find the last time he’d won a fight by something other than come-from-behind knockout or questionable decision. The answer? His 2015 ground-and-pound finish of Oluwale Bamgbose. He’s among the least consistent fighters in the sport, and the fact that he surrendered three takedowns to Carlos last time out bodes ill against one of the few men in MMA with a stronger grappling pedigree than “Shoeface.”

Souza’s chin has failed him in the past and his cardio is a bigger question mark than ever at 40 years old, but he’s exponentially more reliable than Hall. Plus, Hall’s poor cage awareness means Souza won’t have much difficulty corralling him against the fence and going to work with power punches or takedowns. Though Hall is only ever one shot away from turning it around, “Jacare” has the tools to finish him wherever the fight takes place. Considering Souza’s increased willingness to stand and bang, I say he lands that murderous right hand against the fence for an early finish.

Prediction: Souza via first-round technical knockout

This is the part where I’d make one final bid to sell the card, but I’m pretty sure you’re all going to be joining us no matter what I say for lack of other options. See you Saturday, Maniacs.

MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 249 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+/Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN+/ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 249: “Ferguson vs. Gaethje” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

Current UFC “Prelims” Prediction Record for 2020: 26-23-1