UFC 249: Ferguson vs. Gaethje results, analysis, reaction, video

While nearly every major sports organization around the globe is on an indefinite hiatus due to COVID-19, the UFC held an event under unique circumstances Saturday night.

UFC 249 went down in an empty VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla., and it lived up to the hype.

There was some cause for concern late Friday night when middleweight Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza tested positive for COVID-19 and his middleweight fight against Uriah Hall was pulled from the preliminary card.

Luckily, every other fighter scheduled to compete on the card tested negative for the coronavirus and the UFC, which has been working closely with Florida’s athletic commission and has taken many extra safety precautions, was allowed to go on with the show.

Here’s what went down.

Gaethje batters Ferguson to win interim title

Justin Gaethje did to Tony Ferguson what Ferguson has been doing to his opponents for years. Gaethje battered Ferguson for nearly five rounds before getting the stoppage victory to win the interim UFC lightweight title in a contest as wild and violent as expected.

Gaethje found a home for his left hook in the first round and from there he continued to pour it on. He wobbled Ferguson on several occasions and chewed up Ferguson’s legs with well-timed kicks all while showing off his incredible chin.

Gaethje landed 143 of 197 significant strike attempts, a whopping 72 per cent connection rate. Ferguson, meanwhile, hit Gaethje with 136 significant strikes but only landed with 45 per cent efficiency. Overall, Gaethje’s punches were cleaner and had more pop. Ferguson’s face was swollen and bloody and his 12-fight winning streak was snapped when the referee called a stop to the action late in the fifth and final round.

Gaethje and Ferguson are considered by many to be the two most exciting fighters on the entire UFC roster and they proved why. The clash of styles resulted in a Fight of the Year candidate.

To no one’s surprise, the bout was named Fight of the Night and Gaethje took home an additional Performance of the Night award. This brings his post-fight bonus total to nine bonuses through seven career UFC fights.

Gaethje elected not to accept his interim belt and said the only fight he’s interested in next is a unification match with unbeaten lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Cejudo announces retirement after stopping Cruz

Henry Cejudo earned a second-round technical knockout victory over Dominick Cruz in the co-main event before making a surprise announcement. The Olympic gold medallist and two-weight UFC champion said he plans on retiring from mixed martial arts to focus on his personal life.

Cruz hadn’t fought in 1,226 days and it was clear that Cejudo had a speed advantage. He was landing hard leg kicks but Cruz seemed to be getting into a rhythm. Late in the second round there was an accidental clash of heads that split Cejudo’s forehead open. Once action resumed, Cejudo was aggressive and he landed a perfectly-timed knee that knocked Cruz to the ground. Several follow-up strikes resulted in the referee stopping the fight with two seconds remaining in the round.

Cruz disputed the stoppage immediately as he felt he was working back to his feet and intelligently defending himself.

Ngannou dusts Rozenstruik in the blink of an eye

Francis Ngannou and Jairzinho Rozenstruik are perhaps the two hardest punchers on the UFC roster and it was Ngannou whose power prevailed. It took him a mere 20 seconds to put Rozenstruik to sleep, landing a looping left hook on the button while pressing forward.

With the win, Ngannou has positioned himself to fight for the heavyweight strap. It’s unclear exactly when current champion Stipe Miocic will be ready to return to the cage, but it seems as though a trilogy bout with Daniel Cormier will be his next fight.

GSP inducted into the Hall of Fame

Before the top three fights on the main card began, the UFC announced former welterweight and middleweight champion Georges St-Pierre would be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame this summer. This was a no-brainer.

Kattar smokes Stephens with nasty elbows

From the moment this fight was announced, fight fans knew what to expect. A fast-paced striking match with mostly slick boxing and power kicks and that’s exactly what we got for more than seven minutes before Calvin Kattar dropped Jeremy Stephens with a huge standing elbow strike.

He followed it up with some ground-and-pound and left Stephens a bloody mess. Kattar improved to 21-4. Stephens missed weight by nearly five pounds for this featherweight bout, which cost him 30 per cent of his purse, and hasn’t won a fight since knocking out Josh Emmett in 2018.

Ex-NFL star Hardy sweeps the scorecards

Yorgan de Castro melted Justin Tafa in his last outing and he was throwing hands and battering controversial ex-NFL star Greg Hardy’s left leg with heavy kicks early in their heavyweight tilt, but the former Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman held strong and ending up sweeping the scorecards to win a decision.

After coming out strong, de Castro’s output waned the longer the fight went with his corner frequently yelling at him to be more active. He didn’t appear winded during the bout but the end of the third round he looked down at one of his feet indicating he sustained an injury.

Hardy bounced back from a short-notice loss against former Bellator champion Alexander Volkov to improve to 6-2 with one no-contest. Hardy is still green in MMA, only making his pro debut in June of 2018.

Pettis beats friend Cerrone for second time

The featured preliminary bout saw Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone attempt to avenge a 2013 loss to Anthony “Showtime” Pettis but he fell short in an exciting three-round rematch.

Pettis finished Cerrone in one round seven years ago when he held the UFC’s 155-pound belt and the two have since become friends. These two WEC legends and future UFC Hall of Famers have trained together over the years, despite being former opponents, and their familiarity with one another showed on Saturday. This was a really close fight but all three judges gave Pettis the nod two rounds to one.

Pettis didn’t throw as many flashy techniques as he usually does but several takedowns from Cerrone kept the former lightweight champion honest. Both fighters landed many hard shots and were busted up at the end of the 15 minutes.

Cerrone has now lost four fights in a row, which is the longest streak of his career. Pettis snapped a two-fight skid. Pettis landed 81 strikes compared to 62 for Cerrone.

Oleinik upsets former champ Werdum

Former heavyweight champion Fabrício Werdum had been out of action for the past two years while serving a suspension for a failed drug test. Aleksei Oleinik expelled a lot of energy and came out aggressive to welcome him back to the Octagon.

Werdum caught a second wind and the final two rounds were more of a back-and-forth affair with Werdum imposing his will on the ground at times, but at the end of the bout it was the 42-year-old Russian that had his hand raised after a split decision. This was Oleinik’s fifth win in the UFC after he turned 40. UFC Hall of Famers Dan Severn and Randy Couture are the only other fighters to accomplish that feat.

Esparza overcomes odd scorecards to beat Waterson

Anyone who has seen Carla Esparza and Michelle Waterson fight before should not have been surprised this fight was closely contested and went the distance. Esparza, the inaugural strawweight champ, came out ahead in a split decision despite one judge giving all three rounds to the longtime fan favourite Waterson.

Esparza is now tied for second in all-time UFC strawweight wins with seven. Former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk holds the record with 10.

Luque pays the ‘Price’ in brutal rematch victory

Vicente Luque and Niko Price had an entertaining scrap back in 2017 and they upped the ante at UFC 249. Luque submitted Price with a D’Arce choke in the first meeting, but this time he was able to finish Price with strikes.

These two talented welterweights traded heavy punches, kicks, knees and elbows for nearly 14 minutes and neither showed an off switch. Luque dropped Price in the third round and it resulted in Price’s right eye completely swelling shut. The referee stopped the fight to let the cageside physician take a look and he determined it was not safe for Price to continue.

Luque was outstuck 144-130, although he did land one more significant strike than Price, which turned out to be the difference.

Mitchell puts on grappling clinic

If you love grappling then this was the fight for you and you’re now likely a fan of “Thug Nasty” aka Bryce Mitchell, who dominated Charles Rosa en route to a 30-25, 30-25, 30-24 unanimous decision.

Mitchell attacked Rosa non-stop with submissions from all angles. Mitchell was 12-0 as a pro entering the fight and coming off a Submission of the Year performance when he locked in a rare twister in his most recent outing. He came close on multiple twister attempts in the first two rounds.

Rosa was able to withstand the suffocating attack and made it to the scorecards.

Mitchell officially had five submission attempts and 14 guard passes in the entertaining bout.

Spann outlasts Alvey in silent opener

Ryan Spann was the biggest betting favourite on the entire card but he barely squeaked out a split decision win over Sam Alvey, who made a late push only to fall short in the opening fight of the night at UFC 249.

It was Spann’s fourth consecutive win, which ties him with Magomed Ankalaev and reigning champion Jon Jones for the longest active win streak in the UFC’s light-heavyweight division (Jones’s lengthy win streak was ended on a bit of a technicality due to a no-contest stemming from a failed drug test).

Daniel Cormier admitted right off the bat that it “was a little weird” hearing Octagon announcer Bruce Buffer introduce the fighters to complete silence.

Rogan did the same thing when interviewing Spann after the fight.

MAIN CARD
— Justin Gaethje def. Tony Ferguson by TKO
— Henry Cejudo def. Dominick Cruz by TKO
— Francis Ngannou def. Jairzinho Rozenstruik by knockout
— Calvin Kattar def. Jeremy Stephens by TKO
— Greg Hardy def. Yorgan de Castro by unanimous decision

PRELIMINARY CARD
— Anthony Pettis def. Donald Cerrone by unanimous decision
— Aleksei Oleinik def. Fabricio Werdum by split decision
— Carla Esparza def. Michelle Waterson by split decision
— Vicente Luque def. Niko Price by TKO
— Bryce Mitchell def. Charles Rosa by unanimous decision
— Ryan Spann def. Sam Alvey by split decision

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