This weekend’s UFC 249 event represents more than one of the most stacked mixed martial arts cards of all time. It also represents one of the first significant steps back to live sport amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
To mitigate the risks of the pandemic, no crowd will be in attendance in Jacksonville, Florida. Also, commentators must sit separately, and all crew members will wear personal protective equipment. No interviews will take place inside the octagon, which will be disinfected after each fight. Everyone involved will stay in a single hotel and undergo testing for Covid-19.
In the main event, Tony Ferguson will put his 12-fight winning streak and place as the top contender in the lightweight division on the line as he squares off with Justin Gaethje. The 36-year-old Ferguson hasn’t lost in nearly eight years, going 15-1 inside the octagon and this weekend’s contest provides him with the opportunity to claim the interim lightweight title for the second time. In his six appearances since signing with the UFC, Gaethje has proven why he might have the aptest nickname in the business as “The Highlight” has collected seven post-fight bonuses, including four Fight of the Night awards.
In the co-main event, bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo is on a mission to substantiate his claim as the greatest combat sports athlete of all time and has set his sights on taking out the legends that preceded him as a means of making his case. The pandemic and its travel restrictions knocked former featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo out of their scheduled bout, but another ex-titleholder in the shape of Dominick Cruz has stepped in, eager to claim the title for the third time. Only one man in UFC history, Randy Couture, has done so.
Interest from Africa will focus on heavyweight brute Francis Ngannou of Cameroon, who fights fellow banger Jairzinho Rozenstruik. The pair are the top two contenders in the heavyweight division behind former champ Daniel Cormier.
Ngannou has rebounded from his loss to Derrick Lewis at UFC 226 by reminding everyone that he is one of the most terrifying talents in the sport, today, registering stoppage wins over Curtis Blaydes, Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos in a combined 142 seconds. That’s less than three minutes to ice two of the best heavyweights of the last decade and the fighter currently stationed at number three in the rankings, who is unbeaten in bouts against anyone other than Ngannou.
Rozenstruik used 2019 to go from UFC newcomer to heavyweight contender, registering four stoppage wins in 11 months to push his record to 10-0 overall before calling out Ngannou.
Ngannou and Rozenstruik have 24 career victories between them, 23 of them inside the distance. Bet on someone getting knocked out in a fight that has action written all over it.
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