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UFC 249: Ferguson vs. Gaethje - Predictions and Picks (Part Two)

  • UFC 249 is finally going ahead this Saturday, with a very different card from the one initially planned.
  • Here are the picks and predictions for the new, additional fights on this fascinating card.
Scott Newman
SENIOR ANALYST
Preview
Modified 04 May 2020, 18:26 IST

UFC 249 has been rescheduled for this weekend - with a brand new co-main event
UFC 249 has been rescheduled for this weekend - with a brand new co-main event

As the old saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. UFC 249 – which was initially supposed to take place on April 18th in Brooklyn, New York and then Lemoore, California – is now due to go ahead this Saturday, May 9th, in Jacksonville, Florida.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the card has changed dramatically over the last month. Initially set to be headlined by the long-awaited Lightweight title clash between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson, the show will now be headlined by an Interim title fight between Ferguson and top contender Justin Gaethje.

The rest of the card has seen plenty of changes too. The ongoing pandemic, which has caused chaos across the sporting world, has meant that the show planned for this weekend looks wildly different to even the scrapped Lemoore show.

Fights such as Rose Namajunas vs. Jessica Andrade, Michael Johnson vs. Khama Worthy, and Marlon Vera vs. Ray Borg have now been removed, while the card has gained a number of exciting fights, including a Bantamweight title fight.

Since the Lemoore show was scrapped on such short notice, a predictions and picks article for many of the fights already exists.

Therefore, you can find my predictions for Tony Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje, Francis Ngannou vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Jeremy Stephens vs. Calvin Kattar, Greg Hardy vs. Yorgan de Castro, Uriah Hall vs. Ronaldo Souza, Vicente Luque vs. Niko Price and Ryan Spann vs. Sam Alvey by clicking on the embedded links.

This article will instead deal with the new additions to the card. Here are the predicted outcomes for the additional fights set for UFC 249: Ferguson vs. Gaethje.

#1 UFC Bantamweight title: Henry Cejudo vs. Dominick Cruz

Dominick Cruz has been out of action since December 2016
Dominick Cruz has been out of action since December 2016

Quite how it’s come to this is anyone’s guess, really. Current Bantamweight kingpin Henry Cejudo – who overcame Marlon Moraes last June to claim the title vacated by TJ Dillashaw – was all set to make his first title defense against Jose Aldo at UFC 250 this Saturday.

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The choice of Aldo as Cejudo’s first challenger was baffling in itself; sure, the Brazilian is a living legend of MMA, but he also lost – admittedly controversially – to Moraes in his debut at 135lbs. Still, the fight would’ve been a strong headliner for the UFC’s planned trip to Brazil.

Of course, all that was before the Covid-19 pandemic, and with Aldo stranded in Brazil, we’re now getting an even more baffling title fight. Somehow, despite not fighting since December 2016 – and not winning since June 2016 – former champion Dominick Cruz has been pegged as Cejudo’s challenger instead.

To say the decision is ludicrous would be an understatement; newer fans of the promotion might only recognize ‘The Dominator’ as a color commentator, and it’s not like there’s a dearth of contenders at 135lbs. Aljamain Sterling, for instance, is on a 4-fight win streak and is ranked #2, while Petr Yan has never lost in the UFC at 6-0 and is ranked #3.

Whether it’s the UFC’s decision to go with Cruz rather than one of those two men – or whether Cejudo requested a fight with the bigger name – is a question mark. Either way, this is the fight we’re getting, and hopefully due to the Covid-19 issue, it won’t hold the division up for too long.

So who will pick up the win? In all honesty, it’s hard to look past Cejudo simply because of the amount of time Cruz has been on the shelf. Sure, ‘The Dominator’ has spent great swathes of time on the shelf before, but never quite this long.

He lost 35 months of his career between October 2011 and September 2014 due to various injuries. He then spent another 16 months out before returning in January 2016, and it’s true that on both occasions, he came back and looked fantastic. His 2014 comeback saw him shellack Takeya Mizugaki in a first-round TKO, while his 2016 return saw him dethrone Dillashaw to claim back the Bantamweight title he never lost.

But this time he’s been gone for an insane 40 months, and more to the point, he’s now 35 years old and is likely past his athletic prime. If anything, he appeared to be slowing down in his last fight, a dramatic loss to Cody Garbrandt.

The problem for Cruz is that in his prime, his footwork and movement was his biggest strength. Nobody could quite get a handle on how he would move around inside the Octagon, and he was able to catch opponents with strikes and takedowns that they simply wouldn’t expect.

In 2020, though? The years of injuries have likely added up and taken their toll, and his extended age will likely have slowed him down too. If he no longer has the movement that he had in his prime, it’s not unfair to suggest that he simply won’t be the same fighter.

There’s another caveat when it comes to this fight, too; Cejudo, an Olympic gold medallist in freestyle wrestling in 2008, will be by far the greatest wrestler Cruz has ever faced. ‘The Messenger’ has actually tended to strike more than wrestle in his most recent fights, but his powerful takedowns are always there to fall back on – as Moraes discovered – and his ground-and-pound can be ruthless.

Cruz’s wrestling is probably the most underrated facet of his game; he threw Demetrious Johnson around, for instance, and comfortably outgrappled Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez. But Cejudo will be on another level entirely, and it’s simply unlikely that we’ll see ‘The Dominator’ take him down.

Overall – lack of personal rivalry notwithstanding – the fight that this reminds me most of is Tito Ortiz’s first clash with Ken Shamrock back in 2002. In both instances, it sees a monstrous champion at the very top of their game, seemingly improving in all areas at a rapid pace, against a former great who’s now past his prime and who has suffered serious injuries.

Incredibly, Shamrock – who felt like an old man at the time of that fight at UFC 40 – was only three years older at that stage than Cruz is now. And of course, Ortiz simply destroyed ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Man’ in ruthless fashion – showing once and for all that time waits for no man.

I see no difference here, and I think this one will be just as one-sided as that fight was. I’m taking Cejudo via second-round TKO – and I fully suspect Cruz will hang up his gloves for good when all is said and done, and hopefully be inducted into the UFC’s Hall of Fame soon.

The Pick: Cejudo via second-round TKO


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Published 04 May 2020, 18:26 IST
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