IT'S been debated and delayed, mooted then mocked, but the time for talking is (almost) over: the UFC's controversial return is just days away. This weekend, UFC 249 will take place at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Florida, and as you'd expect, Dana White has put on a hell of a show.
So good in fact, we're going to work our way through this epic card in two separate parts:
Part 1: Oleinik vs Werdum, Hall vs Souza, Cerron vs Pettis, and Cejudo vs Cruz.
Part 2: Hardy vs Castro, Stephens vs Kattar, N'Gannou vs Rozenstruik, and Ferguson vs Gaethje.
Greg Hardy is notorious in American sports. A top player kicked out of the NFL for domestic violence, he made the transition to MMA quickly, achieving a UFC contract after just three fights. Jorgan de Castro earned his opportunity fighting on Dana White’s Contender Series, and followed the victory with an impressive knockout over Justin Tafa.
Both fighters favour heavy leather over any other technique, and a knockout for either fighter (Hardy 7/5, de Castro 21/10) is definitely on the cards. In his most recent outing, Hardy was outclassed in a decision loss to Alexander Volkov, and de Castro might look to replicate that at xxx/xxx.
Stephens, now unfortunately better known as “Who the **** is that guy?!” stemming from Conor McGregors press conference insult, is a UFC veteran who has fought the best of the best, albeit usually on the losing end. Kattar is a fighter many are touting as a potential future champion, but as of yet hasn’t found a signature win to cement his position as a truly elite prospect.
Both strikers have heavy hands but Stephens has the power edge and a penchant for throwing wild strikes from range. An early first round finish might be on the cards for Stephens (15/2), although he’s also capable of dragging his win out over the full three rounds (21/4). Kattar is the more polished of the two strikers, who at one point in his career went on a seven-fight decision win streak (11/10 for a repeat here), but more recently has finished three of his last five fights by KO (29/10).
Two heavyweight fighters who promise to deliver the same thing heavyweights in any combat sport do – a brutal highlight reel finish or a boring snoozefest. Both fighters boast memorable wins over experienced Dutch kickboxer Alistair Overeem – Rozenstruik with a lip-busting shot seconds from the bell in a contest he otherwise lost, and N’Gannou with an uppercut that will feature on every “Best UFC Knockout” video for the next 20 years. Don’t blink.
Most backers will find themselves drawn to a first round KO; and justly so. N’Gannou (39/20) has finished 10 of 14 wins within five minutes, and Rozenstruik (7/1) has finished seven of 10 wins in the same round. So where is the problem? Neither fighter has ever been finished. Odds on this fight going to distance might look relatively appealing, especially given N’Gannou’s gun shy performance in his fight with one hitter quitter Derrick Lewis.
Another seemingly long shot worth considering would be N’Gannou via submission. He boasts four subs on his record – all against lower quality opposition – but Rozenstruik’s defence is untested as of yet.
— UFC (@ufc) May 5, 2020
Main event – Interim Lightweight Championship title fight
The main event of UFC 249 is guaranteed fireworks – Gaethje has won more post fight bonuses than he has fights with seven from six, claiming two from losing efforts, and Ferguson has nine bonuses in his current streak of 13 fights unbeaten.
Gaethje’s relentless forward pressure and cast iron chin could be too much for Ferguson – who has been knocked down in three of his last five fights. Tony excels in the later rounds, and with Justin’s last three wins coming by first round KO there is a chance this fight gets stopped before it gets started. On the contrary, Ferguson’s legendary cardio could push Gaethje to breaking point, with Justin’s only career defeats coming from opposition who could outlast his barrage of low kicks and wild hands.
Smart punters will want to look at method and time of victory, with Ferguson by late TKO or submission (4th round KO – 16/1, 5th round KO – 22/1, 4th round submission – 16/1, 5th round submission – 25/1), or Gaethje by early KO (1st round KO – 4/1, 2nd round KO – 8/1). It’s important not to overlook the possibility of a doctors' stoppage due to damage, with both fighters having a vulnerability to being cut, and a habit of causing their opponent to bleed. Cuts stoppages are counted as a TKO in MMA, and with appealing odds for either of these outcomes later in the fight, you could earn a pretty penny.