UFC 249 PREVIEW: FERGUSON VS GAETHJE HEADLINES AS BIG-TIME SPORT RETURNS

UFC 249 Ferguson v Gaethje

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UFC president Dana White has pulled off the seemingly impossible, picking UFC 249 up off the canvas and rescheduling it for 10 May (AEST) – just three weeks after the original date was abandoned due to the coronavirus pandemic.

UFC 249 news dominated the barren sports landscape last month as White spruiked an audacious plan to host the event on a private island on 18 April. ESPN and parent company Disney put the kibosh on that scheme, but the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions in Florida will allow UFC 249 to take place behind closed doors at Jacksonville’s VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.

White has essentially succeeded in his quest to ensure UFC is the first genuinely high-profile code to burst out of the coronavirus sports malaise.

The initial UFC 249 headliner, Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Tony Ferguson, was scrapped after UFC Lightweight Champion Nurmagomedov was stranded in his native Russia due to coronavirus travel bans. As a result, Justin Gaethje was drafted in to fight Ferguson for the interim UFC Lightweight Championship.

Meanwhile, Henry Cejudo – previously set to fight José Aldo at UFC 250, which was scheduled for 9 May in Brazil – will defend the UFC Bantamweight Championship against former titleholder Dominick Cruz.

The main card features three more fascinating match-ups, and mixed martial arts fans will be poring over UFC 249 betting tips and UFC 249 predictions ahead of the weekend’s octagonal extravaganza.

‘El Cucuy’ puts streak on the line against Gaethje

 Tony Ferguson’s long-awaited showdown with Khabib Nurmagomedov was quashed for a staggering fifth time, this time by COVID-19. But ‘El Cucuy’ remains the star attraction of UFC 249, where he takes on Arizona native Justin Gaethje for the interim UFC Lightweight Championship.

Boasting a 25–3–0 record with 12 knockout victories, Ferguson joined the UFC in 2011 and boasts a record-equalling 12-fight winning streak that this week stretched beyond eight years. The 36-year-old Californian has only had two fights in the past two-and-a-half years, however: round 2 TKOs against Anthony Pettis (UFC 229 in October 2018) and Donald Cerrone (UFC 238 in June 2019).

Gaethje, who only signed with the UFC in 2017, has had five fights during that time. The 31-year-old sports a 21–2–0 MMA record (18 wins by knockout) and also stopped Cerrone in his most recent bout, a first-round TKO in September that garnered Performance of the Night honours for ‘The Highlight’. It was Gaethje’s third straight win following on from two consecutive losses.

Both fighters come from a wrestling background. But while Ferguson, the second-ranked lightweight behind Nurmagomedov, has eight submission victories to his name – including six during his current winning streak – the fifth-ranked Gaethje leans on an aggressive stand-up fighting style, rarely employing take-down manoeuvres.

At the time of writing, Ferguson was a warm $1.54 favourite – his unrelenting, persistent style and the variety of his attacks mean he is regarded as one of the UFC’s best pound-for-pound fighters in any division. Gaethje is a formidable brawler and solid value as a $2.48 underdog. But he is unlikely to provide enough surprises to spring an upset over the wily Ferguson.

 Ferguson vs Gaethje tip: Tony Ferguson to win by submission or on points.

Champion Cejudo in Cruz control

With José Aldo sidelined by visa issues, Henry Cejudo will put his UFC Bantamweight Championship on the line against Dominick Cruz – a replacement that’s something of a surprise.

Although he boasts a strong 22–2–0 MMA record, Brazilian jujitsu specialist Cruz – a two-time UFC Bantamweight champ – has not fought since 2016 due to a string of injuries. Unsurprisingly after such a lengthy lay-off, the 35-year-old is the $2.78 outsider at the time of writing.

Cejudo, a wrestling gold medallist at the 2008 Olympics, has crafted a 17–2–0 record since switching to mixed martial arts. He won the UFC Flyweight Championship from Demetrious Johnson in a split decision in 2018 before moving up a weight division and beating Marlon Moraes for the vacant Bantamweight Championship in June last year via a round 3 TKO, his fifth straight victory and most recent outing.

The $1.45 favourite ahead of his UFC 249 title defence, the 33-year-old Cejudo is currently ranked third in the UFC pound-for-pound rankings across all divisions – only behind dominant figures Jon Jones and Khabib Nurmagomedov. ‘The Messenger’ is climbing the ranks of the promotion’s best-ever fighters.

 Cruz carved out a reputation as a tremendously agile fighter and a great striker who also has solid wrestling ability. The loss to Cody Garbrandt in his last bout was his only defeat since 2007 and he has never lost by knockout, but Cruz is too much of an unknown quantity against a seasoned champion like Cejudo.

Cejudo vs Cruz tip: Henry Cejudo to win on points.

Scary heavyweights, ex-NFL stars and unbeaten records on intriguing UFC 249 card

Third billing on the UFC 249 card goes to a pair of terrifying heavyweights: Cameroonian-French powerhouse Francis Ngannou and Suriname’s Jairzinho Rozenstruik.

Ngannou has won 14 (10 by knockout) of 17 fights in his MMA career, while Rozenstruik is defending an undefeated 10–0–0 record, with nine fights won by knockout.

Ranked second in the UFC’s heavyweight division, Ngannou – the resounding $1.34 favourite at the time of writing – has racked up three straight first-round knockout victories in his last three outings. Sixth-ranked Rozenstruik was headed for his maiden defeat in December against Alistair Overeem before pulling off a knockout punch just seconds before the final bell.

The step up in class for Rozenstruik should be telling, with Ngannou backed for the win in most UFC 249 tips.

Calvin Kattar (20–4–0) is strongly favoured at $1.41 to win his featherweight duel with UFC stalwart Jeremy Stephens (46–17–0). Stephens has recorded three losses and a no contest in his last four fights, while Kattar’s defeat to Zabit Magomedsharipov in November was his second in four fights following a 10-bout winning streak. An upset could be on the cards in a clash hotly anticipated by hardcore UFC fans.

The main card gets underway with a heavyweight match between former Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy (5–2–0) and $2.75 underdog Yorgan de Castro, who boasts five knockouts in six career fights and is yet to taste defeat. Don’t expect this one to go the distance.

Ngannou vs Rozenstruik tip: Francis Ngannou to win in round 1.

Fans and punters will be flocking to watch UFC 249 this weekend as the COVID-19 haze slowly starts to lift from the world of sport. It promises to be one of 2020’s must-see events courtesy of a deep card dripping with storylines and topped off by a worthy headline fight.

Sportsbet has a wide range of betting options and Tony Ferguson vs Justin Gaethje tips available ahead of UFC 249. Bet now.

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