After two months off, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is finally ready to resume its combat business in the face of COVID-19, as UFC 249 will go down later TONIGHT (Sat., May 9) inside Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. Originally slated to go down on April 18 in Brooklyn, N.Y., the event was moved to Lemoore, Calif., for the same date after New York banned large gatherings of people due to coronavirus. Then, after the higher-ups at Disney and ESPN stepped in, the event was ultimately postponed. Undeterred, Dana White and Co. didn’t give up, re-booking the event a few weeks later, bringing us to present date.
It’s been a long, expensive and exhausting road for all parties involved to get here, but now that fight night is officially upon us, it’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy some good old fashioned sanctioned violence. And there will be plenty of it, as the ESPN+ PPV event is stacked from top to bottom with one intriguing match up after another, as belts are to be won and title shots to be claimed. Late last night, though, UFC’s worst nightmare came true after it was revealed that Ronaldo Souza had tested positive for coronavirus, forcing him out of his scheduled bout against Uriah Hall. A few hours later, it was announced that two of his cornermen had also tested positive. Despite all of this, the show will go on, much to the chagrin of numerous critics.
It took long enough for Dana White and Co. to take some blame for Khabib Nurmagomedov not fighting at this event and contributing to the sixth cancelation of his proposed bout against Tony Ferguson. Still, I’m sure plenty of the “Eagle’s” critics will still find a way to blame it all on the Lightweight kingpin. In the end, the promotion made up for it by providing us with a very good replacement in Justin Gaethje.
While I’m sure Ferguson’s plans didn’t involve fighting for yet another interim title, he had to adjust with what was given to him, as is the case with pretty much everyone these days. And even though “El Cucuy” isn’t facing the king of the mountain, he knows all too well that Gaethje is someone who is just as formidable, if not more, given his knockout power and in-your-face attitude. And that’s just the luck that Ferguson has had throughout his impressive 12-fight win streak dating back six years: just when he’s close to finally getting his official world title fight, it’s yanked from underneath him due to freak injuries, worldwide travel restrictions, and now, possibly, a knockout machine who can end his title hopes in the blink of an eye. Sure, everyone’s got a puncher’s chance in combat sports, but when “Highlight” is standing in front of you, the percentages increase drastically.
Here’s the kicker: Ferguson has yet to be knocked out in his MMA career. Sure, he’s been rocked before (Anthony Pettis and Lando Vannata come to mind), but he always finds a way to recover and adapt. In short, he can take a licking and keep on ticking. While Ferguson also has an aggressive pace, Gaethje edges him out in that department (just barely), which means we could be in line for a full-on train collision. That obviously favors Justin here, so it would behoove “El Cucuy” to be a bit more tactical, pick his shots carefully and try to take this fight to the ground where he has a drastic advantage. The prize for the victor will be title unification bout against Nurmagomedov later this year, so the added motivation is there. So while we’re all bummed for once again losing Khabib vs. Ferguson, this is one hell of consolation prize that could provide us with one of the best fights in recent memory.
Henry Cejudo was originally slated to face Jose Aldo at UFC 250, but after travel restrictions canceled that bout, the promotion pegged former division king, Dominick Cruz, as his replacement. While there are many upset at that choice, mainly Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan, it’s no secret why UFC chose “The Dominator.” The promotion is simply trying to sell PPV’s and Cruz has a big name and is considered the best Bantamweight ever. So While Sterling and Yan may have better win streaks, Cruz can attract more eyeballs. And if Dominick can pull off the upset, it will be one of the biggest wins inside the Octagon for any fighter, as Cruz is coming off a 2.5-year layoff due to injury. For Cejudo, taking out the ex-champ further cements his status as one of the best in the game, as his resume would show consecutive victories over Cruz, Marlon Moraes, T.J. Dillashaw and Demetrious Johnson, claiming two separate division titles along the way.
In addition, Francis Ngannou and Jairzinho Rozenstruick will finally get to put hands on each other, with the winner getting the next title shot in the Heavyweight division. The problem is, there is no telling when Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier will do the dance for a third time, so the winner could be waiting a while for his shot at gold. First things first, one of them has to take care of business later this evening. Being two of the hardest hitters in the game, most don’t expect this fight to make it out of the first round, but that’s the same thing that was said of Ngannou and Derrick Lewis ... and we all know how that turned out.
Speaking strictly about the lineup, there’s not much to complain about here, though the promotion’s critics earned some big “I told you so” points after Team Souza’s positive COVID-19 tests. The promotion ponied up the coin to essentially lockdown a hotel, obtain personalized equipment needed to train and cut weight safely, as well as provide the best medical care possible. And it will likely stick to praising the success of its safety protocols should no other cases arise, as White and Co. will likely rely on the fact that Souza was likely positive prior to getting to Jacksonville as a result of one of his family members being sick with the virus.
Furthermore, Dana White and Co. have been adamant that no one working or fighting is doing so against their own will, perhaps as a way to protect themselves from an impending shit storm. On that note, it’s kind of tough to turn down the chance to fight and make money when your house depends on it.
Original Card vs Actual Card:
Look, UFC 249 went through so many facelifts that we would go crazy trying to get through them all. So let’s just a do a quick recap, shall we? Khabib Nurmagomedov was unable to make it out of Russia to face Ferguson due to Vladimir Putin locking down the country to help flatten the coronavirus curve. Gaethje stepped in and here we are. Rose Namajunas bowed out of her scheduled bout against Jessica Andrade after her family sadly suffered multiple deaths due to coronavirus. Those are the two big fights from the original card that are no more. In fact, the card looks nothing like it did originally, as the promotion was forced to put together an entirely new one, taking bouts from other canceled scheduled events to stack this one up. Amanda Nunes was in talks to defend her Featherweight title against Felicia Spencer at this event, but she took herself out of the running before the bout was made official, citing needing more time to train and heal her wounds.
Lyman Good was set to face Belal Muhammad on the original card, but withdrew from the event after testing positive for COVID-19. Also, Ciryl Gane was forced out of his scheduled bout against Shamil Abdurakhimov after suffering a collapsed lung.
No new blood for this event, as it is made up of long-time veterans and (former) champions.
How The ‘Prelims’ Look:
The undercard of this event could easily be a main card on any other given night. In the main event of the “Prelims,” Anthony Pettis and Donald Cerrone will run it back once more, this time at Welterweight. Pettis knocked out “Cowboy” seven years ago in the very first round, so his confidence is sky high (see it again here). Cerrone, meanwhile, is in dire need of a win after dropping his last three, all via knockout. And after admitting that he didn’t show up against Conor McGregor, “Cowboy” needs a big showing to prove that he isn’t ready to check out of the fight game. Cerrone was hot and cold at 170 pounds, while Pettis has only competed in the division once under the UFC banner, scoring a knockout win over Stephen Thompson. So to say who has the advantage in this weight class is a bit hard, though it’s safe to say that their respective knockout power only increases with the added weight.
Aleksei Oleinik and Fabricio Werdum will tango in what is sure-to-be an interesting Heavyweight match up, especially if it gets to the ground. Both men have outstanding jiu-jitsu skills, though I’d give the edge to Werdum, who will be fighting for the first time in more than two years due to a USADA-issued suspension. Werdum may be close to creeping his way out of the Octagon, so if he wants some leverage at the negotiation table wherever he decides to go next, he needs to get a “W” here.
Also, Michelle Waterson will face former Strawweight champion, Carla Esparza, in a pivotal bout that could have major title implications. Vicente Luque and Niko Price will run it back in what is sure-to-be a thrilling Welterweight bout. Luque defeated Price in 2017, so he’d love nothing more than to get back on track by getting another win over his foe. Meanwhile, Bryce Mitchell faces off against Charles Rosa at Featherweight, while Sam Alvey and Ryan Spann collide in Light Heavyweight action to kick off the event.
Who Needs A Win Badly:
Jeremy Stephens and Calvin Kattar will collide in a Catchweight bout of 150 pounds after Stephens missed his mark by four pounds. That is now the third time “Lil Heathen” has come in heavy for a scheduled bout. On to the fight itself, it should be a banger, as both men love to strike and are rarely in a boring fight. But Stephens really needs to show out and get a win here, as he has lost three in a row, with one “No Contest” sandwiched between because of an accidental eye poke he suffered at the hands of Yair Rodriguez. Stephens has had a three-fight skid inside the Octagon before, but he bounced back nicely from that. Hopefully he can do the same here, because four straight losses won’t be a good look, especially after missing weight badly.
Interest Level: 10/10
Of course this card is going to get a perfect score. It’s stacked, and we finally get to see some world class MMA action, which will be entertaining all the way around. After all, what other sporting event are you going to watch? Indeed, the card is legit, aside from the championship double-header, we also get to see Greg Hardy back in action. He is 2-2-1 so far in his Octagon career, while his opponent, Yorgan de Castro, is undefeated in his MMA career (6-0, 1-0 UFC). This is a big fight for Yorgan, who could make a name for himself if he can stop the Hardy hype train which, let’s face it, hasn’t been overly-impressive thus far. For Hardy, it’s his chance to make a big statement by taking out an undefeated big man.
We are in for an interesting night of fights, as titles could change hands, a champion will be crowned and title contenders will rise. That being said, the three positive COVID-19 results have already cast a shadow over the event, and also puts the other two events planned this week in question, as well as other events UFC has set in the coming months. The promotion hoped to have things runs smoothly, but if more positive tests surface after tonight, it could mean UFC going back into hiatus. And the return of the biggest MMA star in the world will be further in doubt.
Full Fight Card:
UFC 249 PPV Main Event On ESPN+:
155 lbs.: Tony Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje (not Khabib Nurmagomedov) for interim UFC Lightweight championship
UFC 249 PPV Co-Main Event On ESPN+:
135 lbs.: Bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo vs. Dominick Cruz
UFC 249 PPV Main Card On ESPN+ (10 p.m. ET):
265 lbs.: Francis Ngannou vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik
145 lbs.: Jeremy Stephens vs. Calvin Kattar
265 lbs.: Greg Hardy vs. Yorgan de Castro
UFC 249 Prelims on ESPN+/ESPN (8 p.m. ET):
170 lbs.: Donald Cerrone vs. Anthony Pettis
265 lbs.: Fabricio Werdum vs. Aleksei Oleinik
115 lbs.: Carla Esparza vs. Michelle Waterson
Uriah Hall vs. Jacare Souza CANCELED
170 lbs.: Vicente Luque vs. Niko Price
UFC 249 Early Prelims On ESPN+/Fight Pass (6:30 p.m. ET):
145 lbs: Bryce Mitchell vs. Charles Rosa
185 lbs.: Sam Alvey vs. Ryan Spann
***Fight card, bout order and the amount of matches subject to drastic change because of the various global quarantine restrictions.***
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+.
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