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PIERCE: UFC 249 brings the heat for sports fans during pandemic

On Saturday, a major professional sports competition took place for the first time in nearly two months, as baseball, basketball, combat sports and hockey have been halted due to COVID-19. However, it came down to UFC to be the first American sports league to break the standstill. As UFC President Dana White reported in the post-fight press conference for UFC 249, “...the gate revenue was zero. The attendance was zero.” With no fans allowed to watch the event live, only the fighters and essential personal were allowed. The main card was completely stacked with two title fights and an array of big names. You know that it is a crazy main card when the Cowboy/Pettis rematch is on the preliminary card. Here are my picks for the worst fight and the best fight on the main card. Flop of the Night Coming in as the flop of the night was the matchup between Greg Hardy and Yorgan de Castro. This fight kicked off the main card and held a ton of potential through the first round. Both heavyweights came out swinging in hopes of grabbing a first-round knockout. Hardy landed a couple of tough shots, but de Castro really made his presence known by tearing up Hardy’s lead leg with constant leg kicks. However, de Castro hurt his toe which caused him to be extremely stagnant for the remainder of the fight. After landing 15 shots in the first round, de Castro only landed nine in the next two rounds combined. This made for an extremely boring final ten minutes. Whenever Hardy enters the octagon, people are looking for a knockout, but this was nowhere near that. Hardy out struck de Castro 66-24, as he was on the offensive for most of the fight. This led to an easy unanimous decision in Hardy’s favor. In the first round, you could easily see de Castro’s upside and potential. However, he was not able to handle adversity with his foot issue, and this led to an easy decision for Hardy. Fight of the Night It is always exciting when the main event can bring all the hype that was built over fight week. And this one delivered. The second title fight came between then lightweight interim champion Tony Ferguson and No. 4 ranked contender Justin Gaethje. In various fight week interviews, White said that he, “…guarantees that this main event is going to be incredible.” He was not wrong. Although it seemed that Ferguson came out a little flat and slower than usual, his incredible chin held up through almost five full rounds against the hardest hitting lightweight. Gaethje’s striking power was on display like never before. Going into this fight, we knew that Gaethje has insane power and has been deemed the “most violent fighter in the game”. However, we saw a transformed Gaethje on Saturday. The two losses he has come from him “having too much fun”, as he said in the post-fight press conference, and getting complacent during the fight. This caused him to lower his guard. This is not a side of Gaethje that we saw on Saturday. He was aggressive, but his strikes were very calculated. This is an adjustment that had to be made when facing Ferguson, as he is an animal with his own style.

Four full rounds of hard-hitting action made the main event well worth the buy. Although some say that referee Herb Dean’s stoppage in the fifth round was too early, but I think he was spot on as Ferguson was barely hanging on. It is amazing that Ferguson was able to last as long as he did against Gaethje’s haymakers.   This also gave Gaethje his ninth bonus in seven fights, after his bout was named the Fight of the Night and also earned him the Performance of the Night. Now, Gaethje is the UFC interim Lightweight Champion with his eyes set on undisputed UFC Lightweight Champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov. Honorable Mentions After the fight of the night and the flop of the night, only three other fights took place on the main card. In addition to Gaethje, heavyweight Francis Ngannou earned a Performance of the Night accolade after he knocked out Jairzinho Rozenstruik in only 20 seconds. Ngannou is currently the No. 2 ranked heavyweight in the world and absolutely deserves a title shot very soon. In the Bantamweight division, champion Henry Cejudo and weight class legend Dominick Cruz faced off right before the main event. Although, the stoppage may have been called early, considering Cruz was working his way back to his feet, Cejudo would remain the champ. After defeating Cruz and defending his title, Cejudo surprisingly announced his retirement. After becoming an Olympic champion in wrestling and holding two UFC weight division belts, Cejudo feels like he has accomplished all that he could. The final honorable mention is for featherweight Calvin Kattar who defeated Jeremy Stephens in the second fight of the card. Despite Stephens missing weight by five-and-a-half pounds, he still couldn’t get it done. Kattar finished Stephens, a grizzled vet of the sport, halfway through the second round. This win for Kattar will surely help him get a top-five opponent on his next fight. It is safe to say that UFC 249 was a stacked card that delivered to those who paid for it. Everything else aside, the fights themselves were very entertaining and gave fans a glimmer of hope during these unprecedented times.

Written by: Drew Pierce

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