Despite what you may or may not think about sporting events taking place during a global pandemic, the UFC is back and in your face this weekend. Barring any last-minute interventions, the previously cancelled UFC 249 will be broadcast live around the world from the Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida on Saturday night.
Whether the event should be going ahead is the burning question for many but being closed to the public and with only essential personnel in attendance, the UFC are confident that Saturday night’s event will be a benchmark for the two subsequent events scheduled for the 13th and 16th May. Morality issues aside, health and safety protocols will be in place, including stringent medical screening and checks, for all events to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all involved.
That aside, the revised UFC 249 card is stacked to the rafters and promises to be exactly what MMA fans around the world need to quench their insatiable thirst for the sport. With two title fights topping the bill, Saturday night has all the makings of a truly world-class showcase of MMA on what is already an historical event.
Tony Ferguson vs Justin Gaethje – Interim Lightweight Title:
Whilst the cursed Khabib v Ferguson match up is destined to never happen, the latest postponement of one of the all-time jinxed fights sees an opportunity for Justin Gaethje to step up and claim the interim belt. With an impressive 15 FOTN/POTN bonuses between them, there is absolutely no reason why numbers 16 and 17 should be added to that come Saturday night.
With his crazy fight style, unorthodox training methods and unique character, Tony Ferguson is a dominant and imposing figure in the lightweight division which is undeniably backed up by his mammoth 12 fight win streak dating back to October 2013. Although Khabib Nurmagomedov and the lightweight crown was, and still is, the ultimate goal for Ferguson, Justin Gaethje will prove a worthy and game opponent when the Octagon door closes on Saturday evening
Henry Cejudo vs Dominick Cruz – Bantamweight Title:
In the space of just 10 months, Henry Cejudo went from being a contender in the flyweight division to winning both the flyweight and bantamweight strap, thus becoming only the fourth fighter in UFC history to hold the title in two weight classes. In doing so, Cejudo has elevated himself to the top table but hasn’t endeared himself to fighters and fans alike with his antics and unique persona. That being said, Cejudo has proven to all that he is a serious contender and a man not to be messed with, as TJ Dillashaw and Marlon Moraes can both confirm.
Love him or hate him, Cejudo will forever be known as the man to dethrone the greatest UFC flyweight of all time in Demetrious Johnson and become only the second man to beat Mighty Mouse in the UFC, the last man of course being a certain Dominick Cruz.
Since beating Johnson in October 2011, Dominick Cruz has seen a career blighted by injuries that has seen him step foot in the Octagon on just 4 occasions since. Granted those 4 fights saw Cruz pick up a POTN bonus, win the vacant bantamweight title, defend and lose said title but had Cruz been blessed with an injury free career, we would no doubt be referring to him as one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters of all time.
Despite his injury problems, Cruz is still highly regarded due to his awkward fighting style and dedication to the finer points of the sport both inside and out of the Octagon.
Francis Ngannou vs Jairzinho Rozenstruik
Just two words can sum up what to expect from this fight. Explosive power. Aside from the awful encounter with Derrick Lewis and a draining defeat to Stipe Miocic on his first attempt at heavyweight gold, Francis Ngannou has quite simply obliterated anyone who had the audacity to stand in his path. Since making his UFC debut in 2015, Ngannou has amassed a terrifying 8 KO/TKO finishes out of his 9 victories, including the highlight reel KO of Alistair Overeem.
Much like Ngannou, unbeaten Jairzinho Rozenstruik has brought nothing but devastating power and sheer aggression with him since announcing his arrival in the UFC with a 2nd round TKO win over Junior Albini in February last year. Since then, Rozenstruik has secured KO wins in his 3 subsequent fights and will prove a massive test for Ngannou, but with two brutal finishers colliding don’t expect this one to go the distance.
Jeremy Stephens vs Calvin Kattar
Jeremy Stephens has been fighting in the UFC for nearly 13 years. Let’s just take a step back and let that sink in. 13 years!! Back in May 2007, Stephens made his way into the Octagon for the first time when he met Din Thomas at UFC 71. Not only was it his UFC debut but also his 21st birthday. Fast forward to May 2020 and Jeremy Stephens is days away from making the walk to battle for the 33rd time when he faces Calvin Kattar.
To put it in comparison, Calvin Kattar, who has a record of 20-4, hadn’t even made his professional debut when Stephens made his UFC debut in 2007. Since stepping in as a late replacement for the injured Doo Ho Choi against Andre Fili in 2017, Kattar has built up a solid 5-2 record in the UFC and will be looking to add the scalp of a UFC veteran to his tally on Saturday night.
Greg Hardy vs Yorgan De Castro
The main card kicks off with the next chapter in the career of the ever-divisive Greg Hardy. With controversy never far from his feet, Hardy has endured a difficult time in the UFC with a disqualification for an illegal knee, a win overturned to a no contest due to use of an inhaler and a defeat in his last outing seeing him notch up just 2 legal wins in his 5 fights on the promotion. Both wins were quick knockouts and Hardy does have power but whether he has the tools to make a dent in the top 15 of the heavyweight division is open to debate.
Hoping to continue the indifferent start to Hardy’s MMA career is the unbeaten Yorgan de Castro. At 6-0, Cape Verde’s de Castro made an explosive start to his UFC career by finishing Justin Tafa in the first round at UFC 243 in October last year.