Making the Grade – UFC 249 Maincard

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 06: Tony Ferguson interacts with media during the UFC 249 press conference at T-Mobile Arena on March 06, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Last week we published the Making the Grade Undercard report for UFC 249. This time it’s time to take a look at the main card and grading the matchups that will take place on May 9th. There are a couple of huge fights at the top of the card and a very explosive heavyweight clash as well. Let’s take a look at what to expect when the UFC makes its highly anticipated return.

Greg Hardy vs. Yorgan De Castro

Hardy lost his last fight to an experienced Alexander Volkov. Prior to that, we saw Greg Hardy in the Octagon, deciding it was a good idea to use an inhaler between rounds. While that move is not ok in any way, shape, or form, it pales in comparison to his many other “mistakes” and departures from civilized behaviour. The fact that the UFC continues to promote him is disappointing and the fact he’s fighting during a pandemic that affects the respiratory system is just silly. He has crazy power and if he catches you clean, he’ll knock your head off.

Yorgan De Castro is a perfect 6-0 as a professional and has won five of those fights via stoppage. He’s got hammers for hands and when he lands, the fights end. He earned his UFC contract via the Dana White Contender Series with a first-round stoppage over Alton Meeks. In his official debut, he stopped Justin Tafa in the first round. He’s on quite a roll.

This fight carries the same interest as auto racing does. Simply watching for the inevitable crash. These two will stand a couple of feet apart and throw grenades until something substantial crumbles the other. This fight doesn’t matter much in terms of rankings or standing in the division, but it should produce a highlight-reel knockout. Going with De Castro via second-round KO.

Grade: C+

Jeremy Stephens vs. Calvin Kattar

Jeremy Stephens has been a little hit or miss and his record now stands at a pretty average 28-17. He’s dropped three consecutive fights and five of his last eight. “Lil Heathen” needs a win really badly or he might find himself looking for employment elsewhere. Stephens always has the proverbial puncher’s chance. He has ridiculous power in both hands. Jeremy Stephens has been stopped in two of his previous three fights so that’s a bit concerning because Kattar can also bang.

Calvin Kattar is 20-4 as a pro but has lost two of his previous four fights. He looked tremendous in back to back first-round stoppages over Chris Fishgold and Ricardo Lamas but was defeated in his last outing by Zabit Magomedsharipov. He brings some solid striking to the cage. He’s currently ranked ninth in the UFC’s featherweight division to Jeremy Stephen’s seventh.

This is a good matchup and should be a good scrap. Both men are ranked in the top ten, despite their recent setbacks. It’s a little odd that Jeremy is still ranked seventh despite three consecutive losses, but that’s the case. I think this fight is flying under the radar but should be a good clash between two talented strikers. Kattar is favoured and that makes sense. He should control the distance standing and win what could be a firefight.

Grade: B

Francis N’Gannou vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik

Francis N’Gannou is an absolute killer with outrageous power in his hands. He’s ranked second in the division and with a victory over Rozenstruik, he’ll likely get a title shot at the winner of Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier. His knockout of Alistair Overeem is still the most devastating KO I’ve ever seen. The guy just hits like a truck. He’s won three consecutive fights, all by first-round stoppage. He’s legitimately the scariest man in the sport.

Jairzinho Rozenstruik is another killer with stupid punching power. He’s currently ranked sixth in the division and a win over N’Gannou would skyrocket him to the top of the division. He’s gone a perfect 4-0 since joining the UFC, all via stoppage. He stopped Allen Crowder and Andrei Arlovski combined in less than 40 seconds. Rozenstruik knocked out Alistair Overeem in his last outing.

This fight pits two savage punchers both ranked near the top of the division. It’s one of the most compelling heavyweight fights in recent memory and should be amazing. Both men can win this fight with a single shot but the odds favour Francis N’Gannou. That said, “Bigi Boy” is the Making the Grade upset pick of the week. Rozenstruik via third-round KO.

Grade: A

Dominick Cruz vs. Henry Cejudo (bantamweight championship)

Champion Henry Cejudo is known as “The King of Cringe” because his persona is often pretty tough to take. He’s always trying to promote himself in ways that feel forced and just super awkward. That said, when he steps into the Octagon, he’s elite. He can wrestle you, submit you and stand and trade. Cejudo is tremendously well-rounded. He’s the champion for a reason, he’s dominant.

Dominick Cruz is known as the best bantamweight ever to fight in a cage. He’s an absolute technician and gameplans like nobody else in the sport. Injuries have marred his career and had they not, he’d be on the shortlist when people discuss the best of the best. Cruz hasn’t been in the cage in nearly four years so he’s unranked. But the former champion is 22-2 and deserves a title shot based on his track record.

If you look at Henry Cejudo’s last four victories he’s defeated Marlon Moraes, T.J. Dillashaw, Demetrious Johnson, and Sergio Pettis. That’s quite a list. Cruz’s last four victories were against Urijah Faber, T.J. Dillashaw, Demetrious Johnson, and Takeya Mizugaki. Pretty solid list as well. This is a great fight and it might come down to ring rust and whether Cruz can avoid takedowns.

Dominick Cruz can win this fight, but the odds are against it. Cejudo is just so talented and his takedowns could tell the tale when it’s all said and done. Going with Henry Cejudo via unanimous decision.

Grade: B+

Tony Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje (interim lightweight championship)

Tony Ferguson is crazy, but he can flat-out fight. Ferguson is ranked first in the lightweight division and hasn’t lost in over eight years. “El Cucuy” has defeated a who’s who at lightweight and has been basically one of the best for a very long time. He’s been deserving of the title for years, but for whatever reason, a potential fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov has been cursed. The MMA Gods simply won’t allow it. Ferguson’s last three victories have come against Donald Cerrone, Anthony Pettis, and Kevin Lee, all via stoppage. He’s on quite a roll.

Justin Gaethje is ranked fourth in the division and has never had a boring fight. He’s a fan favourite because he just bites down on his mouthpiece and slings bombs until he either drops his opponent or gets dropped. The latter doesn’t happen much. He’s won three in a row all via first-round stoppage against Donald Cerrone, Edson Barboza, and James Vick.

This fight will be bananas, bet on it. It’s going to be crazy while it lasts. Tony Ferguson’s ability to push the pace is second to none and Gaethje’s durability has never been in question. This could be a case where Justin Gaethje is just asking too much of his chin. If you stand in the pocket with Tony Ferguson, you more often than not end up slept. Gaethje keeps up and makes it fun for a couple of rounds but eventually, he’s going to fade and Tony Ferguson will crumble him. Ferguson via TKO in round 3.

Grade: A

Overall Card Grade: B

Potential KO of the Night: Jairzinho Rozenstruik

Potential Fight of the Night: Justin Gaethje vs. Tony Ferguson

Potential Submission of the Night: Don’t see it happening

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