UFC 249 takes place this Saturday: in a world devoid of live sport and with that in mind, UFC President Dana White has endeavoured to put on a fantastic show for both the purists and casual fans. On paper, he appears to have done exactly that, writes Faolan Cahill.
To best paint a picture of the calibre of fighters taking part this weekend, here are a few facts about some of those entering the octagon:
- A fighter on a 12 fight win streak, unbeaten since 2012
- An Olympic Gold Medallist and Two-Weight UFC Champion
- A two-time UFC Bantamweight Champion
- The record holder for the Most Wins in the UFC
- A former UFC Lightweight Champion
- A former NFL Defensive Lineman
A stacked card to say the least and I’m going to preview the biggest fights below, accompanied by a recommended bet for each.
Tony Ferguson v Justin Gaethje
The headline act for UFC 249 sees Tony Ferguson take on Justin Gaethje for the Interim Lightweight belt. This highly anticipated bout pits the unpredictable nature of Ferguson against the brawling, powerful exuberance of Gaethje, and it’s set to be a cracker.
Ferguson has won his last 12 fights, a division record, with his last defeat coming in May 2012. To put that in perspective, he has not lost a fight since Manchester City won the Premier League for the first time. This run includes wins over two former champions and many other top contenders. Only bad luck has denied Ferguson his shot at current Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagamedov.
In the opposite corner will stand the #4 ranked Justin Gaethje, a wrestler at heart, who has won his last three fights by first round KO. Despite this only being his seventh fight in the UFC, Gaethje has already recorded wins over Michael Johnson (the last man to beat Ferguson) and #6 ranked Donald Cerrone. Stepping up to fight for the Interim Title shouldn’t faze “The Highlight” who certainly lives up to his nickname.
Both of these fighters will bring a lot of energy to this matchup, with Gaethje looking for the early knockout whilst Ferguson will be aiming to pick him apart with dangerous elbows, and is happy to go the distance if needs be. Ferguson is the favourite and I expect him to come through this bloodied but victorious.
Henry Cejudo v Dominick Cruz
The co-main event of the evening could easily have topped the billing, as Two-Weight UFC Champion Henry Cejudo looks to defend his Bantamweight belt against Dominick Cruz, a man who has held that same belt on two previous occasions and is considered to be the best Bantamweight the UFC has ever seen. Whoever comes out on top in this one will be able to legitimately stake their claim as the Greatest Bantamweight of All Time.
Cejudo’s rise has been emphatic, from winning gold at the 2008 Olympics, to dethroning dominant Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson, and following that win up with a second belt in the space of 12 months.
Conversely, the injury prone Cruz has not fought since the end of 2016, yet luck would have it that due to unforeseen circumstances, the unranked former champion gets his shot at the title upon returning to full fitness. With seven defences, Cruz is the longest-reigning Bantamweight Champion of all time so the pedigree is there and at 35 he has all the experience you could wish for.
In terms of styles, Cejudo’s Olympic-level wrestling means he is comfortable on the ground but packs a punch on the feet, which is why he’s ranked #3 in the current P4P standings. Cruz relies more on movement, with his quick footwork and unique head movement giving him opportunities to accurately strike his opponent without taking damage himself. An intriguing matchup which I think will see an upset, as Cruz will prove once again there’s no such thing as ring rust.
Francis Ngannou v Jairzinho Rozenstruik
If it’s a KO you are looking for then look no further than this heavyweight clash between two of the hardest-hitters in the UFC today. Ngannou is on a three fight win-streak, with all three ending in first round knockouts, whilst Rozenstruik has fought on four occasions since February 2019, racking up four wins & four knockouts. To give a true reflection of the pure ferocity that will be on show in this fight, Rozenstruik’s fastest KO in the UFC stands at 9 seconds, with Ngannou’s a measly 26 seconds. Rozenstruik is the better all-round fighter with a 10-0 record, so should come out on top if he can avoid being clipped by the Frenchman.
Anthony Pettis v Donald Cerrone
Two legends of the sport will meet for a second time this weekend in what is being described as a legacy fight and rightly so. Former Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis will aim to pick up his second victory over the winningest fighter in UFC History, Donald Cerrone. The pair first fought back in 2013, when a body shot from “Showtime” proved to be the undoing of Cerrone, leading to his first ever KO loss. Revenge is on the cards for “Cowboy”, this time at Welterweight, but after his humiliating defeat to Conor McGregor back in January it’s hard to see him making a triumphant return against such high level opposition.
Yorgan De Castro v Greg Hardy
Aside from the big names in the big fights, further down the card you will find former NFL Defensive Lineman Greg Hardy fighting in what will be only his sixth official UFC appearance. Hardy takes on the undefeated Yorgan De Castro, who may be 6-0 but only has one previous UFC fight to his name. Although he is a world away from the cleats and cheerleaders of the Dallas Cowboys, Hardy should wake up on Sunday with a third UFC win under his belt.
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