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UFC 249: Ferguson vs. Gaethje results and post-fight analysis

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Mookie Alexander recaps and analyzes UFC 249, the promotion’s first event since mid-March.

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Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

Brilliant.

In the UFC 249 main event, Justin Gaethje was simply brilliant against Tony Ferguson. A predictably close and gripping fight through two rounds became a methodical, strategically superb performance that saw “El Cucuy” get beaten everywhere around the cage. The standing stoppage in round five was absolutely the right call by Herb Dean, as Ferguson took inhuman punishment until Herb saved him from himself. It went from thrilling to watch to actually a bit uncomfortable.

Ferguson’s 12-fight win streak is gone, his title shot is gone, and the Khabib Nurmagomedov fight he’s wanted (and we’ve wanted umpteen times over) is now Justin Gaethje’s opportunity. He’s the UFC interim lightweight champion and I cannot begin to express how impressed I am. Gaethje acknowledged that his style got him hit way too much, so he adjusted with a slew of first-round knockouts. Over the course of a five-round battle against someone as dangerous as Tony, he not only looked very responsible defensively, his varied offense flustered Ferguson throughout. Leg kicks, left hooks, straight rights, overhand rights, body shots, jabs (!!!), the combination work was a thing of beauty. Even when he hurt Ferguson he did not get too wild, knowing full well Tony always has something up his sleeve. The one time he did get caught badly was a massive uppercut at the end of round two, and he just walked away like a boss.

Bring on Khabib. If Nurmagomedov cannot neutralize Gaethje’s stand-up (aka “can’t take him down or pin him against the fence”) then he’s absolutely not equipped to deal with Justin’s striking. This version of Gaethje was sensational from start to finish, and even Tony Ferguson had no answers. That’s how great he was, and I cannot wait to see him take on the reigning UFC lightweight king.

For all of the write-ups we’ve done about the UFC concerning the health and safety measures, the decision to run events this early into the coronavirus pandemic, the handling of Jacare Souza’s positive test last night, I’ll freely admit that UFC 249 was mostly as enjoyable as advertised. Don’t worry, we still have much more to cover, but it’ll be in addition to fights for as long as they happen.

In the co-main event, Henry Cejudo stopped Dominick Cruz in semi-controversial fashion. A clash of heads cut open the champ late in round two, then after the restart he cracked Cruz with a big knee for the knockdown. After 11 straight punches, Keith Peterson waved it off with just two seconds left in the round. Cruz is upset because he wasn’t out and he was trying to get up, but eating that many shots in a row while trying to get up seems like reason enough for Peterson to have called it off. I don’t think it’s a great stoppage but I don’t think it was terrible.

Then the shocking news came afterward as Cejudo announced his retirement in the post-fight interview. An Olympic gold medalist, a two-division UFC champion with defenses of both belts, he’s quickly become one of the most accomplished combat sports athletes of all-time. His speech did sound genuine... and yet I can’t help but feel this was really just the 33-year-old telling the UFC brass that he wants a pay bump. You can’t deny that he’s earned it with the run that he’s been on, so if he’s truly retiring then he’s one of the few to leave on a high note... otherwise bring on the negotiations. UPDATE: Guess he’s retiring for real.

As for Cruz, he didn’t look bad at all but he was certainly outclassed by a faster, more powerful, and more technical athlete. I can definitely understand his frustration with the stoppage given the time left in the round, but the ref is not supposed to take into account the clock whatsoever. We’ll see if Cruz can restart his fighting career, and if Cejudo is genuinely retiring he may yet get another crack at recapturing the belt.

More thoughts below:

Main Card

  • As eerie as the lack of a crowd sounded, it was actually cool hearing the enhanced sounds of the cage, along with fighters listening to their corners (and Daniel Cormier) crystal clear for mid-fight instructions.
  • Jairzinho Rozenstruik wanted Francis Ngannou... he got Francis Ngannou. A terrifying 20-second KO in which Ngannou rushed forward with mostly wild punches, and Rozenstruik’s chin straight up in the air was the greatest invitation imaginable for Ngannou to go spark him out cold. That’s unfair levels of power. The crazy thing is we still haven’t learned anything new about Ngannou over this four-fight winning streak — he just punches people hard until they start snoring! Title shot next, no debate.
  • The UFC had an excellent video montage ready for Georges St-Pierre’s induction into the Hall of Fame. For me, he has at least the greatest resume of all-time and he’s definitely one of the best mixed martial artists ever. He’s a gentleman in and outside the cage, with an enormous impact on the sport. I miss those UFC PPV nights in Montreal with GSP as the main event. St-Pierre in the HOF is a no-brainer, it was all a matter of when he’d get in.e
  • WOW! Calvin Kattar paid homage to the Bloody Elbow name by blasting Jeremy Stephens with an elbow for the knockdown, then splicing his forehead open with another elbow on the ground. Brutal knockout of someone who’s notoriously hard to knockout. Kattar needs a major fight higher-up the featherweight ranks.
  • Greg Hardy won a god awful fight with Yorgan De Castro, whose controller disconnected after he had a leg kick checked and his foot was injured in round two. That was dismal and had no business being on a UFC card, let alone a pay-per-view opener.

Preliminary Card

  • WEC NEVER DIE! Donald Cerrone and Anthony Pettis put on a show in their rematch. It was back-and-forth, with Pettis landing the heavier looking shots while Cerrone had his moments on the feet and scored a couple of takedowns. How Pettis survived that third-round head kick is beyond my comprehension, and how Keith Peterson missed his clear eye poke that hurt Cerrone is also beyond me. Close fight, I don’t agree with the decision, but I understand the 29-28s in Pettis’ favor.
  • Fabricio Werdum got thrashed for much of round one against Aleksei Oleinik, had a better round two (while still getting tagged hard), then dominated round three. It was too little, too late, as Oleinik was able to get the split decision in his favor for one of the biggest wins of his career. Werdum’s first fight since his USADA suspension ends in defeat, and he looked really bad for the first-half of this contest.
  • For as fun as Luque vs. Price proved to be, former UFC strawweight champion Carla Esparza’s split decision win over Michelle Waterson was the opposite of fun. I thought Esparza was fortunate to get the victory — there were 30-27s for both fighters — but it’s not as if Waterson was lighting Carla up.
  • Vicente Luque and Niko Price are just awesome, aren’t they? An incredibly brutal war through two rounds, then it got ultra violent in round three when Luque floored Price with a left hook and the fight had to be stopped due to Price’s mangled right eye. Luque called for a bout with rising welterweight star Geoff Neal, and I am wholly supportive of that fight.
  • So uh... President Trump had a message. That happened. Stick to sports and all that...
  • Bryce Mitchell is one hell of a grappler. Charles Rosa got his black belt from Ricardo Loborio and to his credit, that’s probably how he avoided tapping out as opposed to merely losing a completely lopsided decision. “Thug Nasty” had him in a billion arm-triangles, almost had another twister finish, and just bullied him for almost literally the whole fight.
  • Light heavyweight prospect Ryan Spann held off a furious charge from Sam Alvey in the final round, turning a pretty ho-hum fight into a fun one at the end. Spann got the nod on the scorecards, which might send Alvey out of the UFC given he’s now lost four straight.