Mixed martial arts is back!
Regardless of how you feel about the ethics of holding an event during a global pandemic, UFC 249 goes down this Saturday live from Jacksonville, Florida.
The promotion assures fans and media that they will be taking extra precautions to ensure the safety of everyone involved. The event takes place in an empty arena. There will be no post-fight interviews and competitors are being housed in different areas and submitting to COVID-19 this week.
The card is loaded with top-talent and will likely draw the eyes of many sports-starved viewers. There’s a lot to be excited for but certain fights truly standout.
These are the top five reasons to watch UFC 249.
Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson (25-3) vs. Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje (21-2)
Our UFC 249 headliner is a diabolical madman switching the rails so trains smash head-on into each other realized in the Octagon. It’s a matchup between two of the most violent men in MMA history. This Saturday, Tony Ferguson risks his rank as the No. 1 contender spot to battle one of the most dangerous fighters at 155-pounds in Justin Gaethje.
Ferguson is currently riding a 12 fight win-streak against some of the biggest names in the lightweight division. His style is as unorthodox as one could be and yet he’s still at the top of the game. At range, Ferguson regularly switches stances and uses a sharp jab off either foot. Front kicks are also a staple in the lightweight’s game, and he uses them to great effect to the body of his opponents. On the inside, it’s slicing elbows that the former interim champion uses to carve his opponents’ faces like fleshy jack-o-lanterns.
😳 Tony Ferguson BLOODIES up his opponents
— RT Sport (@RTSportNews) March 10, 2020
After going 1-2 and producing three of the wildest fights fans have seen in recent years, Gaethje has seemingly found his stride. He now owns a three-fight winning streak that consists of three first-round knockouts. Gaethje’s game is dependent on pressure. He likes to back his opponents into the cage and bait them into his strikes. The leg kicks of Gaethje are the things of nightmares and it only takes a couple to change the look of the fight. Gaethje’s clinch game is absolutely ruthless and riddled with short hooks and uppercuts as well.
While Gaethje generally likes to stay on the feet, he does have Division-1 wrestling in his back pocket that we don’t see nearly enough of according to his critics. He’ll also have to be careful should he choose to take down Ferguson. Ferguson’s guard is one of the most active in MMA, and he can catch a submission in the blink of an eye.
Both men want to throw caution to the wind and absorb an absurd amount of strikes to land their own shots. Each likes to dictate the pace of the fight in his own way and it seems likely that neither will be willing to give in to allow the other to impose his game.
“Triple C” Henry Cejudo (15-2) vs. Dominick “The Dominator” Cruz (22-2)
Henry Cejudo will be looking to defend his bantamweight championship for the first time this weekend. His opponent is Dominick Cruz, a man many consider to be the best bantamweight of all time.
Cejudo has won his last five and picked up both the UFC flyweight title and bantamweight title during that run. The Olympic gold medalist vacated his flyweight belt to focus solely on the 135-pound division.
Cejudo likes to duck under and wing shots over the top as he tries to close the distance. The champion has adapted a karate-boxing style that allows him to move in and out of range. Once close, Cejudo looks for the body lock or the collar tie to land dirty boxing or rip his opponents to the mat.
One year ago today Henry Cejudo defeated an EPO filled TJ Dillashaw to defend his flyweight title and “save the flyweight division”#UFC
— Jon Realejo (@BloodyCanvasJon) January 19, 2020
If this were four years ago, it’s very likely Cruz would be the favorite heading into this one. But Cruz hasn’t stepped foot into the Octagon since 2016 when he suffered his first loss in nearly a decade to Cody Garbrandt.
Cruz’s tale is one of greatness and injury. The former two-time champion has come back from long layoffs before and shined. But there is no way of knowing if age and his crumbling body will allow him to be the fighter he once was. When in form, Cruz uses his awkward movements to pick his strikes and shoot for takedowns. His style, mixed with his reach and height advantage would likely equal a bad night for Cejudo under normal circumstances. But currently, we just don’t know what to expect from the former champion come Saturday.
Vicente Luque (17-7) vs. Niko “The Hybrid” Price (14-3-1) 2
Vicente Luque and Niko Price are no strangers to performance bonuses. Between the duo, they’ve racked up nine post-fight bonus checks. They’re also no stranger to each and first fought in 2017 when Luque submitted Price via D’arce choke.
Since the loss to Luque, Price has gone 4-2 and finished every opponent. It should also be noted that in his two defeats, Price was on the receiving end of knockouts. This kill or be killed mentality makes Price’s bouts must-see TV.
Luque went on to win five more fights after beating Price. He finished three of his opponents and put on Fight of the Night performances against Bryan Barberena and Mike Perry. Luque was then granted a shot at breaking into the top five in his last outing but fell to the taekwondo stylings of Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson.
On any card that didn’t feature Gaethje vs. Ferguson, this would the pick to earn Fight of the Night honors.
Jeremy “Lil Heathen” Stephens (28-17) vs. Calvin Kattar (20-4)
Jeremy Stephens will be as hungry as ever this weekend. For just the second time in his 46 fight career, Stephens is on a three-fight losing streak. Those losses came against the likes of Yair Rodriguez, Zabit Magomedsharipov, and Jose Aldo, but it’s still not a good look for the Alliance MMA banger.
That’s not to say that Stephens’ career is in danger should he lose; his penchant for vicious knockouts and his long tenure with the company will probably be enough to save his job even in defeat.
Calvin Kattar will also be looking to get back into the win column after also falling to Magomedsharipov in his last outing. Kattar is 4-2 since signing with the promotion back in 2016 and has put on some very impressive performances in that time. His fight with Shane Burgos was an instant classic and his knockout of Ricardo Lamas was especially violent. “The Boston Finisher” will need to use his more fluid boxing and avoid the heavy shots of Stephens if he hopes to avoid waking up staring at the ring lights.
This one should be fun for as long as it lasts.
“Thug Nasty” Bryce Mitchell (12-0) vs. “Boston Strong” Charles Rosa (12-3)
Charles Rosa has only had six fights in the last six years. Yet, in his handful of bouts with the promotion, he has picked up three Fight of the Night and one Performance of the Night bonus. Rosa earned his black belt under the famed Ricardo Liborio and it shows in bouts; the Massachusetts native has earned eight victories via submission and three due to strikes.
Bryce Mitchell will be more than willing to engage Rosa in a ground war. Mitchell has won nine of his twelve matches via submission. His grappling accolades include a rare twister submission that earned the Arkansan Submission of the Year honors from a plethora of media outlets in 2019.
— UFC Canada (@UFC_CA) December 8, 2019
There’s always a chance that the pair instead choose to keep the bout the standing – which could still result in an exciting contest, but should they hit the mat, we will be in for a clinic this weekend at UFC 249.