UFC 249 Shows Us Nothing Is Ever Promised In This Crazy, Crazy Sport
Ah yes, finally after what seems like an eternity we finally have a sporting event to debrief the day after.
Last night, the UFC became the first sport to return to action last night with a its stacked pay-per-view event UFC 249.
The card was highlighted (pun intended) by a masterclass performance by Justin Gaethje in his stunning victory over Tony Ferguson in the cards main event.
In the biggest fight of his professional career, Gaethje landed an absurd 72.6% of his significant strikes before referee Herb Dean stepped in late in the 5th round to stop the bout in Gaethje's best performance to date.
Gaethje took the fight against the divisions long thought to be "uncrowned champion," Tony Ferguson, on a short notice after Ferguson's scheduled bout with the division's champ, Khabib Nurmagomedov, fell through for the fifth time. Despite this, Gaethje showed a combination cardio, technique, and composure not previously seen in his previous fights.
Entering the fight as a +180 underdog, Gaethje's victory shows us that nothing is ever promised in MMA.
Ferguson, who has been referred to as "the boogeyman", was riding a twelve fight win streak entering Saturday night having not lost since May 2012.
Ferguson's seemingly cursed bout with Nurmagomedov has been apart of MMA lore for the past few years with the fight being pulled off the shelf for a multitude reasons from regular day-to-day athlete injuries to a global pandemic. The promotion seemed to be playing with fire booking Ferguson against the dangerous Gaethje and they got burned.
The interim title will give Gaethje a ticket to meet the aforementioned Nurmagomedov later this year in a interesting style matchup they may present the reigning champ's toughest matchup to date. Gaethje's combination of Division-1 All-American wrestling, boxing, and the fact he's finished all of his victories in the UFC may be enough to finally put in a 1 in the loss column of the undefeated champion.
The card's co-main event featured a fight for the UFC's Bantamweight championship as reigning champ and former king of two divisions, Henry Cejudo, met former two-time champion and long thought to be the division's greatest of all-time, Dominick Cruz.
Cejudo finished Cruz in the second round after connecting on a knee as the former champ attempted to change levels. Despite the controversial and definitely questionable stoppage, Cejudo seemed to make his point after landing plenty of heavy leg kicks on Cruz, who relies on his footwork and looked like he could've used a tune-up fight before being thrown in with the current champion.
Cruz was coming off a four year layoff, marred with injuries, since losing the belt to Cody Garbrandt in December 2016. It wasn't the first time the former champ spent a long time on the shelf before entering a title bout after winning the belt from TJ Dillashaw back in 2016 despite having one fight in the four years prior.
Cejudo further cemented his legacy but adding yet another all-time great to his resumé of victories before shockingly retiring from the sport after the fight. Whether he's actually done for good, needs some time off after such fast rise to the top and a major shoulder surgery, or is simply using a negotiation tactic will be revealed in the coming months.
The rest of the card was filled with some more wild moments in live sports return took shape.
In an anticipated heavyweight showdown, perennial contender Francis Ngannou finished the up-and-coming Jairzinho Rozenstruik in a remarkable 20 seconds. The fight had some irony as former heavyweight champ and next heavyweight title challenger Daniel Cormier sat cage side on commentary.
Cormier is rumored to be fighting the division's champion, Stipe Miocic, in a yet-to-be announced rubber match of a 1-1 rivalry. If the fight is set in stone for 2020, it would mean that the two would have met in 2018, 2019, and 2020 with the only break in action between the two being Cormier's short notice title defense against Derrick Lewis at UFC 230.
Ngannou has finished each of his last four opponents in a combined 2 minutes and 42 seconds and it seems as though he's going to be stuck in limbo until Cormier and Miocic finally meet for the third time and will have to wait even longer when you consider Cormier will likely retire after the bout and that Stipe has seemed to put fighting multiple times a year on the back burner.
It'll be interesting to see if the promotion continues to have throw a slew of contenders at the scariest guy in the division or if they'll wait to give him a title shot late in 2020 or even 2021.
Also on the card was an important featherweight matchup between the 7th ranked contender Jeremy Stephens and 9th ranked Calvin Kattar. A fight that was considered by many going in to be a fight of the night candidate and it certainly delivered.
Despite missing weight by 4.5 pounds, Stephens actually came out looking fast and gave the up and coming Kattar a lot to deal with early on in what turned out to be slugfest.
Despite Stephens looking better than many would've believed when he weighed in, he was put away with a vicious elbow from Kattar in the second round to add another highlight reel knockout to the Methuen, Massachusetts native's collection.
Kattar, who was coming off an impressive performance against potential title challenger Zabit Magomedsharipov, is now on the verge of cracking the top 5 at 145 pounds and is another shark in what is a very dangerous pool of challengers at the weight class. Perhaps a bout with Yair Rodriguez is in order but it will certainly depend on who is next to face the champion Alex Volkanovski and how the rest of the top 5 matches up.