After weeks, live sports had returned as the UFC went to Jacksonvillefor UFC 249. From top to bottom, the card was full of names. In the main event, the lightweight interim title was on the line between two of the most exciting fighters ever. Coming off twelve straight victories, Tony Ferguson looked to win interim gold once again. He would be facing off against former WSOF champion and winner of his last three, Justin Gaethje. A win for either man would put them in the position to challenge Khabib Nurmagomedov for the title.
UFC 249 was originally scheduled to take place on April 18, in Brooklyn. The main event was set to feature a lightweight title fight between UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson. However, when the pandemic hit, plans changed, as the card was forced out of Brooklyn, and then Nurmagomedov would be forced out as well. This allowed for Gaethje to fill in and fight Ferguson for the interim lightweight title. Their April 18 date would be scrapped and UFC 249 was moved to May 9, where Ferguson and Gaethje would finally meet.
In the co-main event, Henry Cejudo looked to defend his bantamweight title for the first time. Originally scheduled to face Jose Aldo in June at UFC 250, Aldo was unavailable and Cejudo would instead take on bantamweight legend Dominick Cruz. Cruz had not fought since 2016 when he lost his title and has been battling injuries ever since. A win over Cejudo could have solidified him as the greatest bantamweight of all time.
UFC 249 Standout Performances
The empty crowd did not seem to affect performances as each fight was full of excitement. From start to finish each fight delivered, but only some stood out from the rest. Looking back on UFC 249 it is time to determine the five standout performances. In order for a fighter to make this list, their performance must stand out among their peers. This could be quick finishes, flashy knockouts, great submissions, dismantling an opponent, or providing an all-around exciting fight. Along with every performance will be a look at what could potentially come next for each fighter.
#1 Justin Gaethje
def. Tony Ferguson via TKO (Punches) at 3:39 of Round Five
Entering the fight, Ferguson had won his last twelve straight. The last time he lost was nearly eight years ago when Michael Johnson defeated him by unanimous decision. Since then he has gone on a tear, winning the interim lightweight title once along the way. To earn that he would defeat Kevin Lee at UFC 216 with a third round triangle choke. However, after bouts with Nurmagomedov for the title fell through, Ferguson would lose his interim title. He would then go on to face Anthony Pettis, who he beat in two rounds as Pettis’ corner stopped it after two due to a broken hand. His next fight came against Donald Cerrone as he defeated him by TKO after two due to a doctor’s stoppage. He looked to win the interim title once again and finally get another chance to fight Nurmagomedov.
Coming into this fight, Justin Gaethje seemed to be at the best stage of his career. In his last three straight, he finished each opponent by knockout in the first round. It started with James Vick as he finished him in a minute and half of their main event fight. He then headlined another card where he would knockout Edson Barboza in two and a half minutes. Finally, he faced off against Donald Cerrone and finished him by TKO in just over four minutes. In his first shot at UFC gold, Gaethje looked to capitalize and earn his chance at Nurmagomedov.
The first round started a bit slow but each fighter quickly began finding success with their striking. Soon into the round, Gaethje began finding the most success with his counter right into a left hook. He connected with that hard counter shot on multiple occasions. Along with the left hand, he was finding early success with his leg kicks connecting on several occasions.
In the second round, both guys continued doing well on the feet, but it seemed like Gaethje was still the one landing the harder shots. With about a minute left, Ferguson began mixing up his strikes, throwing elbows and kicks and finding some success. It was not until the last ten seconds of the round when Ferguson landed his best shot of the fight. Both fighters moved in, throwing an uppercut, but Ferguson’s was the only one that landed, causing Gaethje to stumble around before the horn quickly sounded.
In round three, Gaethje continued showing off his great defense and head movement as well as still finding success with his counters. Early in the round, he would land a few more hard left hooks that would cause Ferguson’s eye to begin to swell shut. Then about halfway through the round, Gaethje landed a hard right hand that stunned Ferguson forcing him to stumble back to the cage. As the round closed out, Gaethje continued landing hard shots including a perfect head kick, but Ferguson kept walking forward.
In the championship rounds, Ferguson seemed to have started landing a bit more. While he may have been landing more, Gaethje was still landing the more effective shots. About halfway into the round, Gaethje caught Ferguson with a hard right hand that sent him staggering back to the fence again. As Gaethje closed distance looking for the finish, Ferguson turned his back to get away from Gaethje quickly and steady himself. For the last two minutes of the round, they both traded heavy shots until the close of the round. At the end of four, it seemed that Gaethje could have been up 4-0 or 3-1.
Ferguson opened up round five looking to ankle pick Gaethje only to eat a quick 1-2. As the round went on, Gaethje continued chopping at Ferguson’s legs. At this point, Ferguson’s shins have been bleeding from the amount of damage his legs are taking not only taking kicks, but having his be checked many times by Gaethje. Gaethje kept pouring the pressure on Ferguson, backing him up to the cage and landing heavy shots. Just over halfway into the round, Gaethje landed a hard series of jabs to the swollen face of Ferguson. Not long after he would walk forward and land another hard jab that caused Ferguson to back up and shake his head around like something was not right. This immediately caught Herb Dean‘s attention as he began moving forward, allowing Gaethje to land one last jab before stepping in to end the fight.
Justin Gaethje is now the interim lightweight champion but when he was given the belt, he quickly dropped and said, “I’m waiting for the real one”. After four straight very impressive wins, Gaethje will get his shot at the undisputed lightweight title. That day will come when he eventually meets up with current champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. If all goes well, that fight should take place later this year.
#2 Francis Ngannou
def. Jairzinho Rozenstruik via Knockout (Punches) at 0:20 of Round One
Starting his UFC career off hot, Francis Ngannou quickly earned himself a title shot against UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic. After losing a lopsided decision to the champion, Ngannou went on to face Derrick Lewis. In a very uneventful fight, Ngannou would lose by unanimous decision, the first losing streak of his career. He would return in a rematch against Curtis Blaydes, where he would win in 45 seconds by TKO. After Blaydes, he went on to face former champions in back to back fights as he took on Cain Velasquez and then Junior dos Santos. He finished both men in a combined 1:37 to put himself back into the title picture. But with Miocic and Daniel Cormier settling their rivalry with the score at 1-1, Ngannou has been forced to wait.
In the meantime, UFC newcomer Jairzinho Rozenstruik was quickly making his name in the UFC’s heavyweight division. He made his debut in February 2019 when he took on Junior Albini. He would win in the second round that night by TKO. ‘Bigi Boy’ would then go on to face Allen Crowder who he would knockout in nine seconds, earning him a fight against former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski. Rozenstruik once again made quick work of his opponent, finishing Arlovski in thirty seconds. That win would earn him his first main event slot as he filled in for Walt Harris at UFC on ESPN 7 to face Alistair Overeem. After what seemed like Overeem’s fight for 24 minutes, Rozenstruik landed the fight ending punch, splitting Overeem’s lip open. He then made it clear that he wanted Ngannou.
As the fight began, both fighters met in the middle, where Rozenstruik connected with a couple of leg kicks. After that, Ngannou blitzed forward, putting everything into his punches causing Rozestruik to lose balance and start stumbling back to the cage. As he stumbled backwards, he evaded the first three power punches but the last left hook caught him and shut the lights out. Ngannou unleashed ground and pound before the ref quickly jumped in to stop the fight. Ngannou made it clear to the rest of the division, be careful what you wish for.
It is clear that there is no one else in the division to face outside of the title for Ngannou. After four straight quick first round knockouts, he has clearly earned it. Now who knows if he has improved enough to take on a fighter like Miocic again or Cormier, but with his power, he cannot be counted out. Right now, it is title shot or bust for Francis Ngannou.
#3 Calvin Kattar
def. Jeremy Stephens* via Knockout (Elbows) at 2:42 of Round Two
Going into Saturday night, Stephens had put together a record of 0-3, 1NC in his last four. That started in 2018 when he took on former featherweight champion Jose Aldo. He would lose that fight in the first round, crumbling to a body shot, losing by TKO. Stephens would then go on to face rising contender Zabit Magomedsharipov at UFC 235. He would lose that fight by unanimous decision. In his next fight he took on Yair Rodriguez in a fight that would end in a no contest fifteen seconds in due to an accidental eye poke. The two would meet again a month later where Rodriguez would defeat Stephens by unanimous decision. Unfortunately, entering his fight with Kattar, Stephens weighed in 4.5 pounds above the featherweight limit.
In Kattar’s last four entering UFC 249, he had compiled a record of 2-2. He suffered a loss to Renato Moicano by unanimous decision in 2018. He would then go on to win two straight following that loss. Both those wins were KO/TKO finishes as he defeated Chris Fishgold by TKO and Ricardo Lamas by knockout. Those wins would match him up with Magomedsharipov in a special three round main event. After three rounds, Magomedsharipov would take home the unanimous decision victory. He looked to rebound with a big win over the UFC vet Jeremy Stephens.
In round one, both fighters were exchanging good hard shots. Along with a few leg kicks here and there. As the two traded shots, it was not until there was about thirty seconds left where Kattar landed the hardest shot of the round. As Stephens backed up, Kattar landed a hard straight right hand that forced Stephens back to the fence. Kattar landed a couple more good shots before they met in the middle again at the end of the round.
The second round saw much of the same although now Kattar was picking up the pace. He began landing more shots, each one landing hard. Just over two and a half minutes into the round, the two circled into the middle of the octagon. It was at that moment that Kattar landed a perfect elbow, dropping Stephens quick. Kattar jumped on him for the finish and after a few shots the fight was over.
After a big win over Stephens at UFC 249 there are a few options for Kattar’s next fight. The name that stands out the most to me is Yair Rodriguez who holds a win over Stephens in his last fight. Whoever wins between these two could then match up with another top contender like Brian Ortega or The Korean Zombie, who have had their eye on one another. A fight between Kattar and Rodrgiuez would be a very interesting striking matchup that would hopefully end in a finish.
#4 Henry Cejudo
def. Dominick Cruz via TKO (Punches) at 4:58 of Round Two
Originally scheduled to face Jose Aldo at UFC 250, UFC bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo instead faced off against former champion, Dominick Cruz. Entering the fight, Cejudo had put together and impressive run that began with defeating long time flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson. He would then defend that flyweight title against then bantamweight champion, TJ Dillashaw. He defeated Dillashaw as he knocked him out in just over thirty seconds. After that, he became the fourth simultaneous multi-division champion as he finished Marlon Moraes by third round TKO for the vacant title. His first title defense would come against former two time champion and MMA legend, Dominick Cruz.
Cruz had not competed in the octagon since December 2016 when he took on Cody Garbrandt. The fight was set to be his second title defense since capturing it from Dillashaw and defending it once against Urijah Faber. Garbrandt would go on to completely outclass Cruz, taking the belt from him by unanimous decision. Since then, Cruz has been battling all sorts of injuries as he tried to make it to the top.
From the start of round one, Cejudo made it clear that he was trying to affect Cruz’s movement. Throughout the fight, he was landing heavy leg kicks, quickly causing Cruz’s leg to swell up. Both fighters were finding success with their strikes but it was Cejudo putting on most of the pressure. The first takedown attempt of the fight happened about halfway into the first round as Cejudo caught a knee and brought Cruz down. However he could not keep Cruz down for long as he got right back to his feet in seconds.
In the second round, Cejudo continued pressuring Cruz and throwing heavy leg kicks. It was in this round that Cruz began landing more hard shots and finding more success with his striking. As the round was nearing a close, with about thirty seconds left, the two fighters traded shots on the fence. As they move apart they clashed heads and a cut opened up on Cejudo’s forehead, causing the ref to pause the action and call the doctor in. Once the fight resumed after confirmation from the doctor the two met in the middle and exchanged a few shots. Cejudo then began pressuring Cruz back to the fence where he knocked Cruz down with a perfectly placed knee. Cejudo poured on the ground and pound as Cruz did all he could to stay in it, but the ref had seen enough. With just two seconds left in the second round, Cejudo had defeated possibly the best bantamweight ever.
After his victory at UFC 249, Cejudo made a surprise announcement that he was retiring. At just 33 years old, it is hard to believe why he would retire at such a bright stage in his career. Yet he made it clear that he retired because of his family. Whether or not he is serious, his accomplishments over these last few years cannot go unappreciated. Now what does this mean for the title picture? Dana White stated that he would give Cejudo a week and if he stays retired they will move along with a vacant title fight. White named Petr Yan as one contender for the vacant title but not giving a name for the other, just saying it would be someone else. Looking at the top of the division, the only other clear contender is Aljamain Sterling. Cejudo even recommended a tournament for the belt, including Yan, Sterling, Corey Sandhagen and Marlon Moraes.
#5 Bryce Mitchell
def. Charles Rosa via Unanimous Decision (30-25, 30-25, 30-24)
Coming off The Ultimate Fighter Season 27, Bryce Mitchell had won his first three straight in the UFC. That started at the finale of that season when he defeated Tyler Diamond by majority decision. He would then go on to face Bobby Moffett who he would also defeat by unanimous decision. After that fight he faced off against Matt Sayles and defeated him with just the second twister submission in UFC history. After three straight wins to start his UFC career, he would face off against jiu jitsu ace Charles Rosa.
Rosa entered the contest with a record of 2-2 in his last four, alternating wins and losses. Those four fights took place over the span of five years as he had a long break from action between 2017-19. Before that break he had defeated Kyle Bochniak and suffered losses to Shane Burgos and Yair Rodriguez. When he returned from his layoff, he faced off against Manny Bermudez. Just over halfway into round two, Rosa finished Bermudez by submission as he finished Bermudez with an armbar.
From the beginning of the fight, Mitchell made it clear that his jiu jitsu is not to be messed with. Twenty seconds into the opening round, he got Rosa to the mat where he quickly began fishing for an arm triangle. He locked it up and seemed to have it locked tight, but Rosa defended it well. Mitchell continued to dominate for the rest of the round, and about halfway through the round, he nearly locked Rosa in another twister. He looked for the twister for most of the round before the round ended with Mitchell on top.
The second round featured much of the same as Mitchell caught a kick early and got Rosa down to the mat. He would once again look for the arm triangle but come up short. Near the end of the round he somehow got Rosa back into a twister position and came much closer this time had the round not ended. Finally, the third round began and Mitchell quickly tackled Rosa and immediately had him in twister position as he looked to lock the twister up again. Eventually Rosa would escape and the rest of the round was spent with Mitchell on top for the most part. It was a completely dominant performance from Mitchell as he scored at least two 10-8s on every score card.
Bryce Mitchell has been nothing but exciting since he made his debut in the UFC. He has shown that he has a very good ground game as he has been able to completely dominate people on the mat. Why not match him up with another test for him on the ground and give him BJJ black belt Kron Gracie. Gracie made his UFC debut last year when he defeated Alex Caceres by first round submission. He would then get a big step up in competition as he took on Cub Swanson. He would lose to Swanson by unanimous decision. Even though he has one win in the UFC, he still has a name and a lot of skill and a fight with Mitchell would surely be an exciting grappling contest. A win for Mitchell could earn him a crack at the top fifteen at 145.
Vicente Luque def. Niko Price via TKO (Doctor’s Stoppage) at 3:37 of Round Three
In a rematch of their 2017 fight, Vicente Luque and Niko Price put on a show at UFC 249. The pair traded back and forth, landing hard shots and bloodying their opponent with every shot. Along they way each man also traded leg shots, chopping away at each others lead leg. As the fight progressed, Price’s face got worse and worse as his eye began to swell. In the third and final round, Price was finding a lot of success with his strikes as he outstruck Luque in this round. But just over three minutes into the round, Luque landed a hard left hook that sent Price stumbling backwards before falling to his back. Luque jumped on top and attempted to finish the fight with ground and pound before Price started searching for a submission. Luque quickly got out of danger and got back up to his feet. Once Price stood up, the ref took one look at his eye and called time to have the doctor take a look. Price’s eye had been swollen shut and Luque was awarded the TKO victory.
In an attempt to pick right back up where they left off, we only have to wait a few days for the next UFC card. On wednesday, UFC Fight Night 171 goes down at the same venue in Jacksonville. In the main event, top light heavyweight contenders face off in hopes to work their way back toward the title. Coming off a big win over Alexander Gustafsson, Anthony Smith will take on UFC vet Glover Teixeira. In the co-main event, Ovince Saint Preux moves up to heavyweight to take on Ben Rothwell. Tune in later this week to see who takes home the standout performances from that card.
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