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COVID Can’t Stop the UFC; UFC Returns with a stacked fight card at UFC 249

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every single sport in the world. Every league has had its season either postponed or cancelled due to the fear of spreading the virus, that is, except for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The UFC held their pay per view event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. This was one of the only venues that was willing to take on the task of running an event like this, having to adhere to super strict safety protocols.

UFC 249 was originally slated to take place on April 18th at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY, but the national pandemic had other plans. UFC President Dana White tried everything he could to get this event to happen on time, but he couldn’t get it done. What he did accomplish, was putting together a stacked card from top to bottom only a few weeks after it was originally supposed to happen. Dana certainly isn’t far from a miracle worker.

The night started off with a bang, as a bout between Welterweight sluggers Niko Price and #13 Vicente Luque showed nothing but pure blood and toughness. The first round consisted of both fighters dropping bombs on each other early on. Luque landed a nasty right hand in the round that busted up Price’s eye and started to create some swelling that would start to become a problem for him. The slugfest continued up until round 3, where the damage was just a little too much for Price. Luque landed a left hand that splashed blood out of Price’s face and dropped him to the floor. When he eventually got up, the official told the doctor to take a look at it. The doctor didn’t think it was safe for Price to continue, giving Luque the victory by TKO in the third round.

The main event of the prelims was what we all expected. Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone vs Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis, two men who’s careers thrive off of gritty fights and flashy KOs. This is not the first time these two UFC veterans squared off. They fought at lightweight all the way back in 2013, where Pettis emerged victorious via 1st round TKO. Both fighters have much respect for each other and know exactly how dangerous one another is, so the fight was more tactical and their fight strategies were calculated. It was a back and forth scrap with mild striking volume, until the end of the 3rd round was drawing closer. Pettis was pouring on shots when he poked Cerrone in the eye, but the ref told him to continue. Cowboy landed a shot that stunned Pettis a little bit and they both agreed to slug it out for the little time that they had remaining. Showtime came out with the victory in a close bout that was unanimously scored 29-28.

Ex-NFL player Greg Hardy was able to pick up another victory with a unanimous 30-27 decision over Yorgan DeCastro. Hardy had it tough in the first round as DeCastro came out of the gates throwing bombs, connecting with quite a few of them. Yorgan was also chopping at the leg of Hardy, where you could see the discoloration near his knee. It was looking very good for Yorgan, but he let up on the pace a little too much and let Hardy get comfortable. Towards the end of the 3rd round, Hardy pounced on top of him after DeCastro slipped, and was relentless on top until the fight ended. This win gives Hardy a 6-2 record with 1 NC, a pretty impressive start to a professional MMA career.

The next two fights, Calvin Kattar vs Jeremey Stephens, and Francis Ngannou vs Jair Rozenstruik contained two of the most brutal finishes UFC fans have seen in a while. Kattar came in as a favorite against Stephens, and boy did he show us why. Kattar seemed to land every shot he threw, as Stephens was trying to slow his opponent down by using leg kicks. Midway through the second round, Kattar landed the most precisely timed elbow that made it look like Stephens walked right into it. The clean elbow dropped Stephens to the mat and Kattar started to rain down punches from above and that was all she wrote. Calvin Kattar gets the win via TKO in round 2.

Ngannou vs Rozenstruik was a fight that every spectator knew can only end one way, knockout. Jair was entering this fight undefeated at 10-0 (4-0 in the UFC) as Ngannou came in on a 3 fight win streak. This was a very exciting matchup, as we saw Rozenstruik completely knock the soul out of Alistair Overeem, taking a chunk of his lip with him back in December. Everyone wanted to see if his power can match that of ‘The Predator’, who’s last three fights summed up a total of about two and a half minutes of octagon time. In short, the answer was no. From the opening bell, Rozenstruik had a plan to attack Ngannou’s legs to try and take out some of that power. The game plan was scrapped extremely quickly when Ngannou started to rush with a flurry of strikes. The Predator feasted on his prey as he landed a left hand that put Rozenstruik out cold, only 20 seconds into the fight. This marks four straight first round finishes for Francis Ngannou, who is eyeing his second shot at the Heavyweight title.

The co-main event was a very interesting matchup. Henry ‘Triple C’ Cejudo vs Dominick Cruz. Cejudo has been on a quest for success ever since he won an Olympic gold medal in 2008 at the age of 21. He has been one of the best Flyweights the UFC has ever seen over his career, where he solidified that statement after taking out the #1 pound for pound fighter in the UFC, Demetrious Johnson. Once Cejudo won the Flyweight title, he didn’t feel the need to stay down at a division he cleared out, so he decided to challenge the Bantamweight champion, T.J. Dillishaw. Henry made quick work of Dillishaw, becoming 1 of 4 fighters in UFC history to ever hold a belt in two weight divisions. Cejudo is entering this fight off of a TKO victory in his title defense against Marlon Moraes. Cruz was coming back from a layoff for over three years, after losing his Bantamweight belt to Cody Garbrandt. Cruz was once known as the best Bantamweight of all time, and he was back to reclaim that nickname.

The fight started out as a feeling out process, as each fighter landed some mild blows to each other. Cejudo was starting to get a feel for Cruz’s patented footwork and strike patterns when early in the second round, Cejudo landed solid knee to the face of Cruz that sent him to the canvas. Henry saw his opportunity and flew in for the kill. The ref stopped the fight, but many saw it as controversial. Cruz was still in the process of trying to get up from the flurry of Cejudo’s punches. The ref deemed that Cruz wasn’t really blocking, and that it was necessary to stop the fight at that moment. Cruz clearly wasn’t happy about the stoppage and stated this in his post fight interview, “If I was on the floor, I get it, but I was on the way up. Give me a chance. This is for a world title, this isn’t some backyard fight.” Regardless, Cejudo came out with the victory and successfully defended his title for the second time. Cejudo said something in his post-fight speech that nobody really saw coming. Triple C claimed that it was time to hang up the gloves and committed to his retirement. His career has been very successful and historical, but short lived as he has only been in the UFC for a little less than six years. Nonetheless, congrats to Henry on a prolific career and best of luck on retirement and we hope to see you back soon!

As if this card wasn’t already good enough, it’s time for the main event. Two fighters that are the epitome of what it means to be a warrior. Experienced and brave, Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje battled it out for the interim Lightweight Championship. Ferguson enters this bout on a 12-fight win streak that dates back all the way to 2013, and consistently been one of the best fighters in the UFC, let alone his division. He has taken out the biggest names in the division every year, but has yet to get a fight against the real champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Tony was stripped of his interim belt after an injury, and came back to beat fellow UFC 249 peers, Cowboy Cerrone and Anthony Pettis.The title fight between Ferguson and Khabib has fell through numerous times over the years and it was finally supposed to come to fruition at UFC 249, but once again fell through. The animal that Tony is did not care and was still looking to perform at UFC 249, enter Justin Gaethje, who accepted the fight on short notice. Gaethje has taken out some big names ever since he transferred from the WSOF. He has compiled a 4-2 record prior to this fight, and believed that this was his time to take the spotlight.

From the gate, Gaethje started to land some really heavy shots on Ferguson, along with some leg kicks. More of the same continued in round two as Ferguson was trying to turn up the heat, but was halted by more leg kicks and heavy strikes. At the end of the second round, both fighters threw a powerful winding uppercut, but this time Tony lands and drops Gaethje to the mat for a slight second. As powerful as it was, it didn’t seem to bother Gaethje as he got up quickly and walked to his corner as time expired in round two. The third round was more of the same, as Ferguson was taking big shots but still moved forward and attacked relentlessly, but not so effectively. The fourth round was where things started to look bleak for Ferguson. Gaethje landed a monster right hand to Fergusons jaw and his legs started wobbling, forcing himself to stay up by dancing around. Tony survived a brutal beatdown all the way till the fifth round, when Gaethje landed a blow that had Tony shaking his head in pain and defeat. The ref had seen enough and decided to step in, handing Justin Gaethje the victory via TKO in Round 5.

This was the first time we’ve seen Ferguson lose since 2012, and it was a sad sight to see. Although Justin Gaethje put on a flawless performance and completely outclassed Ferguson, you can’t help but feel bad for someone who has been dominating for years and never got his shot at the title, only to lose that chance because of all the times the fight got called off, and of course because of the perfect performance Gaethje had against him.

After this fight, there is only one fight to make now, Justin Gathje vs ‘The Eagle’ Khabib Nurmagomedov. Khabib has yet to taste defeat in his whole MMA career, compiling a perfect record of 28-0 (11-0 UFC) with two successful title defenses under his belt. Gaethje might just be the person to snap that perfect run that Khabib has. Gaethje has one of the best, if not the best, chins in the UFC, while also having elite boxing skills and D1 All-American wrestling honors. This will be a real test for Khabib and we can only wait to see how that will turn out.

The UFC had a very successful turnout for UFC 249. They are wasting no time getting back to action, as UFC Fight Night: Smith vs Teixeira takes place this Wednesday, and UFC Fight Night: Overeem vs Harris is set to occur this Saturday. For more information, you can visit https://www.ufc.com/events to check out upcoming fight cards and events.

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