Returning sooner than most had anticipated, the UFC will put on their first event in two months this Saturday night, slap bang in the middle of a global pandemic.
With fighters draining their bodies through weight cuts, flying from all over the country and unable to undergo a regular fight camp thanks to gym closures, the UFC’s return is more than likely ill-advised at this current time – emphasized none more so than Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza testing positive for COVID-19.
Nevertheless, the fights will go ahead at least in the short term and UFC 249 does propose a stacked card.
Headlined by two title fights, the first championship bout of the Florida-based event will see current bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo take on the consensus greatest ever 135 lbers in Dominick Cruz.
Meanwhile in the main event, Tony Ferguson will look to claim his second interim UFC lightweight title and continue his historic run in the process as he squares off against arguably the most exciting fighter in MMA today, Justin Gaethje.
Add in fights like Vicente Luque vs. Niko Price, Aleksei Oleinik vs. Fabricio Werdum and Anthony Pettis vs. Donald Cerrone all on the preliminary card, and UFC 249 is ridiculously strong in quality.
Tony Ferguson (25-3) vs. Justin Gaethje (21-2)
This fight has all the makings for a classic stylistically. Both men push the pace, offer a ton of output and produce highlight reel sequences.
In Tony Ferguson you have someone who has proven himself to be more flexible in terms of where the fight goes but has his tried and tested methods nevertheless.
Through stinging jabs, front kicks to the body and slicing elbows, Ferguson has dangerous weapons from any distance and his high output simply overwhelms his opponents.
Defensively however, Ferguson certainly has question marks around his game. With his chin in the air, ‘El Cucuy’ has routinely been tagged with big shots throughout his UFC tenure but shown incredible recovery skills through his ability to eat a blow and gaining time through rolls to escape danger.
Gaethje meanwhile is a known mad man when it comes to the fight game but his current three-fight winning streak has seen him reign in his aggression for a slightly more cautious approach.
With punishing leg kicks, quick hands and power behind his punches in either hand, Gaethje offers a monumental threat, especially early on.
Thanks to Gaethje’s quick starts and Ferguson’s tendency to build into fights, I think Gaethje will be able to hit Ferguson hard early on and play the spoiler.
Pick: Justin Gaethje
Henry Cejudo (15-2) vs. Dominick Cruz (22-2)
While Dominick Cruz has shaken off any questions of ring rust in the past, this will be ‘The Dominator’s’ first foray into the octagon since 2016 and that will surely be a huge factor.
Cejudo meanwhile has been improving in every outing and his wrestling base will likely negate Cruz’s threat of the takedown.
With that particular strength of Cruz’s ruled out, I cannot see him keeping distance for 25 minutes despite how elusive he is.
While leg kicks may trouble Cejudo early on, I think his power and speed will allow him to find a home for his punches at some point.
Pick: Henry Cejudo
Francis Ngannou (14-3) vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik (10-0)
With both fighters showing themselves to be counter strikers for the most part, this fight could well be a mirror of Ngannou – Lewis.
Rozenstruik to his credit has shown a better jab of the two and that could be decisive should both power punchers decide to play cautiously.
Due to N’gannou’s power and experience at the higher level however, I am going to side with ‘The Predator’ despite a clearer path to victory for Rozenstruik.
Pick: Francis Ngannou
Jeremy Stephens (28-17, 1 NC) vs. Calvin Kattar (20-4)
Stephens missed weight for this bout which will likely play it’s part in endurance but Kattar is one of the most technical strikers in the UFC today.
With a simply gorgeous jab, Kattar has proven himself able to work around his staple strike whether it be doubling up, tripling up or throwing a heavy 1-2.
Stephens has shown heart and aggression in the past which could put the fight into brawling territory but Kattar’s footwork and fight IQ should keep the fight in his own control.
Pick: Calvin Kattar
Greg Hardy (5-2, 1 NC) vs. Yorgan de Castro (6-0)
De Castro has fight-ending power but he’s not the most fleet of foot or athletic of heavyweight fighters.
While Hardy is nothing to write home about in terms of talent for fighting, he is more athletic and explosive out of the two.
Maybe De Castro catches Hardy with a big punch in close but I think Hardy can stall out another boring and unimpressive win.
Pick: Greg Hardy
(Last Predictions: 3/5, Total: 29/42, 69% Success Rate)
(Success Rate: 2016: 61%, ’17: 60%, ’18: 58%, 19′: 57%)