Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight finishers Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje will clash TONIGHT (Sat., May 9, 2020) from inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.
Truly, this is the most frustratingly incredible main event that I can recall.
Tony Ferguson deserves a shot at the undisputed Lightweight crown. He’s already won this interim title before, and in a manner of speaking, defended it twice. It’s arguably a step backward for a man on a legendary win streak in one of the sport’s toughest divisions — that sucks.
At the same time ... it’s going to be awesome.
Gaethje is an absolute monster on a trio of thunderous victories himself. Putting the two in the Octagon is a surefire recipe for a brutal finish at worst and “Fight of the Year” contender at best. It’s impossible not to be excited for this match up, even while missing what could have been.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Kevin Lee (UFC 216), Rafael dos Anjos (UFC Fight Night 98), Anthony Pettis (UFC 229), Edson Barboza (TUF 22 Finale), Josh Thomson (UFC Fight Night 71), Donald Cerrone (UFC 238)
Key Losses: Michael Johnson (UFC on FOX 3)
Keys to Victory: “El Cucuy” is all about damage. There’s an infamous collage of all his recent victims bloodied and battered after stepping into the ring with Ferguson, and it’s no coincidence. Ferguson priorities attacking above all else, relying heavily on chopping elbows, stabbing teep kicks, and sudden submission attempts.
Gaethje utilizes different tools, but his mindset is similar.
Both of these men are pretty brutal calf kickers, which makes this an interesting match up. Who can cripple whom first? In terms of pure power, Gaethje likely has an edge, but fortunately Ferguson is the more mobile and tricky fighter in terms of movement.
One weapon that could prove incredibly valuable for Ferguson is his aforementioned teep kick. A well-timed teep can counter a low kick perfectly, sending the would-be leg destroyer flying backwards. Plus, Gaethje has something of a proven vulnerability to body shots, so digging into the belly with the ball of the foot would be wise anyway.
Gaethje has a habit of crashing forward, and it’s my opinion that Ferguson would likely be better off crashing back into him rather than trying to circle off (potentially into a big hook). Ferguson is nasty from the clinch, both with elbows and choke attempts, so there’s potential for him to do damage as Gaethje falls forward and on the break.
Key Wins: Edson Barboza (UFC on ESPN 2), Donald Cerrone (UFC Fight Night 158), Michael Johnson (TUF 25 Finale), James Vick (UFC Fight Night 135), Luis Palomino (WSOF 19, 23), Melvin Guillard (WSOF 15)
Key Losses: Dustin Poirier (UFC on FOX 29), Eddie Alvarez (UFC 218)
Keys to Victory: Gaethje is a bruiser. The man lives to cause mental and physical exhaustion, as well as general chaos. Somewhere in all the madness, Gaethje creates opportunities to destroy his foe’s lead leg or crush a massive power shot into the jawline.
“The Highlight” has 18 wins via knockout.
Gaethje has been honest in interviews ahead of the fight, recognizing that his most realistic path to victory is a knockout in the first 15 minutes. While that’s definitely true, Gaethje cannot simply headhunt. He still has to attack the legs —- and ideally the body as well — to give himself a better shot at landing big. A hard leg or body blow can momentarily freeze even a tough man like Ferguson in place, leaving him more vulnerable to Gaethje’s cracking right hand.
As the fight drags on, it’s important that Gaethje stays sharp. Gaethje’s style is always aggression-first, but his recent success is largely due to an increase in patience, waiting until he’s in range to swing wide. If he looses that accuracy in the chaos of the fight, it’s more likely that Ferguson will start building a lead.
You won’t find a more deserving pair of contenders for an interim title.
Once more, Ferguson has so much to lose here with little to gain. After all, a victory grants him a title shot opposite Khabib Nurmagomedov ... which he had already been set to receive prior to the pandemic. Meanwhile, a loss ends his momentum, putting him behind Gaethje (and probably Conor McGregor) in the Lightweight pecking order.
Justin Gaethje would be a great name to add to his resume, but Ferguson is really just trying to tread water.
For Gaethje, there’s a bunch more upside. Even with the controversial “interim” tag, a belt is a belt! Gaethje already has his well-earned reputation as the most violent man around, so adding a UFC belt of any kind would increase his profile and simply be a huge accomplishment. Beyond that, it surely sets Gaethje up for a showdown with either Khabib or McGregor, a pair of massively high-profile fights.
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At UFC 249, Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje will duel for interim gold. Which man will leave the cage with a belt?