The UFC finally makes its long-awaited return this weekend with UFC 249, after the unimaginable spread of the coronavirus hit the globe staggeringly and caused a majority of worldwide sporting events to be cancelled or postponed.
Thanks in part to Dana White’s doggedness, we are now anticipating one of the greatest cards in UFC history. And not just the main card, the entire event is stacked, from the first fight of the night, all the way through to the main event. The VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida awaits us for an incredible night of fights at UFC 249.
There are many lingering questions that fans are intrigued about. Of course, the main event between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje is one which we all can expect to catch a glimpse of an excruciating battle. Tony Ferguson is not the type of guy to sit at home and stuff himself with popcorn when a big event takes place. But has he taken too much of a risk to fight Gaethje now? Should he have waited for Khabib in September? And how will he feel about cutting weight for the second time in three weeks?
The co-main event sees Dominick Cruz make his long awaited return after losing the bantamweight title to Cody Garbrandt in December 2016. In his way is Henry Cejudo, otherwise known as “Triple C”. Cejudo showed a lot of grit to make his way back against Marlon Moraes and finish him late in the 3rd round, to claim the bantamweight title back in June at UFC 238. This one will be another interesting topic of discussion. Will Cejudo defend his title, or can Cruz regain what was once his and leave “Triple C” without a belt?
Also on the card we have a crazy title-eliminator bout at heavyweight between Francis Ngannou and Jairzinho Rozenstruick. Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone is back for the first time since his 40 second loss to Conor McGregor at UFC 246, and will rematch Anthony Pettis. This time at welterweight. As well as that, we will cross the bridge with some other great fights throughout the night. So fasten your seatbelts!! Because we are in for one hell of a show!!
Light Heavyweight: Ryan Spann vs Sam Alvey
The early prelims begins with a light heavyweight bout between “Superman” Spann and “Smilin'” Sam. Spann has looked incredible since joining the UFC, and is currently 3-0 in the promotion. He also holds a seven fight win-streak, and has won eleven professional fights by submission.
Alvey is currently on a three-fight losing streak. Although he is only 33 years old, he is still very experienced, with 47 professional fights under his belt.
I don’t think that experience will be enough for Alvey in this fight. Even though he has only been submitted once in his entire MMA career, I still feel like Spann will incorporate more pressure in the opening round. Although Spann is a submission specialist, he also has strong knockout power, and his quick hands will be the answer in this fight.
Prediction: Ryan Spann by KO/TKO round 1. Don’t rule out the possibility of a first round submission.
Ryan Spann to win in round 1. +165.
Featherweight: Bryce Mitchell vs Charles Rosa
When I first began to look at this fight, I was quite surprised to see that Mitchell was a -172 favourite. Both of these men are so skillful on the ground, yet so exciting in the way that they finish fights. Mitchell has a twister submission victory to his name, as well as countless rear naked chokes. Rosa has had a number of head and arm finishes, such as neckties, anaconda’s and brabo’s. Both are coming off first round submission victories in their last fights.
I think this fight is going to be exciting from the opening bell. Mitchell is still unbeaten as a professional MMA fighter. While Rosa has only lost to legitimate top featherweights in his career, and close fights at that. Including a split decision loss to Yair Rodriguez.
This fight will go the full distance in my opinion. I think we’re going to see a very skillful bout from start to finish.
Prediction: Bryce Mitchell wins by decision. A close fight all the way until the end, but Mitchell will show that he is definitely a top contender after this one.
Mitchell to win by decision. +150.
Welterweight: Vicente Luque vs Niko Price
The early prelims conclude with a very exciting rematch between two men that hold vicious knockout power in the welterweight division.
Luque submitted Price back in October 2017 by brabo choke late in the second round. Although Price was unbeaten at the time, he has since gone on to win three out of his last four victories by putting opponents such as James Vick, Tim Means, and Randy Brown away stiff.
Meanwhile, Vicente Luque seemed to be en route to a possible title contention spot with incredible knockout victories over Chad Laprise, Jalin Turner, Bryan Barberena and Derrick Krantz, before earning himself a split decision victory over Mike Perry. Coming off a unanimous decision loss against Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson in November however, Luque will be eager to kick-start the year with a victory over former foe and rival Niko Price.
I can see Luque putting on a great performance in this one. I feel he is hungry to get himself back to where he wants to be as a high ranked fighter at welterweight. I also believe that Price has had to deal with some tough knockout losses lately in his career. And Luque has a solid chin.
Prediction: Luque wins by KO/TKO in round 1. I don’t see the fight being stopped by submission again.
1. Luque to win by KO/TKO. +150.
2. Luque to win in round one. +150.
3. Luque to win by KO/TKO in round one. N/A
Middleweight: “Jacare” Souza vs Uriah Hall
The prelims opens up with a great middleweight clash between two fighters who are both yearning for a victory to get themselves back on track towards a top 5 fight.
Although “Jacare” was once very close to a title shot, several defeats along the way have left him subject to a very tough task to claim a title shot at middleweight in the future. Last November he fancied what was probably his last hope at claiming gold in the light heavyweight division, and was beaten in a dull 5 round fight against Jan Blachowicz, losing via a split decision in Sao Paulo.
Now he returns to middleweight, and in his way is #10 ranked middleweight contender Uriah Hall, who has looked spectacular in his last two fights, and seems to be developing very well as a martial artist.
The question is whether Souza is beginning to age too much. Before 2018, Souza looked incredible in the middleweight division, and put away some very tough contenders with ease. With finishes over Gegard Mousasi, Vitor Belfort, Tim Boetsch, and twice against Derek Brunson, he was sure to eventually become the UFC middleweight champion.
But now it has become very evident that Souza is slowing down as a martial artist. That’s why I find it very difficult to predict the outcome of this fight. “Jacare” is the more well rounded fighter but can Hall beat down an aged version of “Jacare” Souza?
Prediction: Souza by decision. However, all week I was thinking that Uriah Hall would get the job done in the second round. Very difficult to predict. But I will stick with Souza by decision. Don’t be surprised if Uriah Hall puts him away though.
1. Souza to win by decision. +350
2. Hall to win by KO/TKO. +250
3. Hall to win by KO/TKO round 2. N/A
Strawweight: Carla Esparza vs Michelle Waterson
What a great strawweight bout to look forward to between two women who have looked very impressive in their last few fights!
Although “The Karate Hottie” was beaten by the former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk in her last fight in October at UFC Tampa, she has still looked very impressive for a span of almost two years. After claiming victories against Felice Herrig and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Waterson seems to have stepped up her game.
Meanwhile, Esparza has looked wicked tough in her last few fights. The former champion is looking for a third successive victory after a fantastic win over legitimate prospect Alexa Grasso, last September.
The winner of this fight may be one or two fights away from title contention!
Prediction: Waterson by decision. I truly believe that Waterson will get her hands raised in this fight. I think overall she is a better fighter and she will bring it to Carla Esparza.
1. Waterson by decision. +195.
2. Waterson to win. +136.
Heavyweight: Aleksei Oleinik vs Fabricio Werdum
I’m just starting to realise how good a fight card this is! We’re not even on the main card yet and we still have some cracking fights in store.
Werdum makes his long-awaited return to the Octagon after suffering a 4th round KO loss against Alexander Volkov in March 2018. He will be looking to get back to business again, and possibly back into title contention.
42 year old veteran Aleksei Oleinik continues to prove himself time and time again. His jiu jitsu skills are off the charts, and at times where we believe this man is starting to slow down, he steps up and puts on a masterful performance, just like he did in his last contest against Maurice Greene.
I truly believe that Werdum will get the job done. It’s important for the former champion to get back to where he once was in the heavyweight division. This is a massive fight for him, and I think he will be the man to show up on the night.
Prediction: Werdum by KO/TKO round 1. In 73 professional fights, Oleinik has only been submitted twice. I think Werdum is going to land a vicious blow early and put Oleinik away.
1. Werdum by KO/TKO round 1. N/A
2. Werdum to win in round 1. +190.
Welterweight: “Cowboy” Cerrone vs Anthony Pettis
The prelims finishes off with an epic rematch between “Cowboy” Cerrone and Anthony Pettis at 170lbs.
They last fought back in 2013, where “Showtime” finished Cerrone with a body kick in the opening round. However, both fighters have grown and aged since then. Pettis became UFC lightweight champion, and also went on to fight in three weight divisions. “Cowboy” came close to claiming gold at lightweight and had some great fights in the welterweight division also.
Coming off a 40 second loss to Conor Mcgregor, it will be interesting to see how “Cowboy” responds on May 9th. His coach said that Cerrone has a fire lit under him ahead of this welterweight bout against Pettis.
Both fighters are coming off a number of losses. “Cowboy” is currently on a 3 fight loss streak, and Pettis has lost 2 fights in a row against Nate Diaz and Diego Ferreira.
I can see “Cowboy” performing well. In my opinion, this fight will definitely go the full three rounds, and I can see it being a very close fight, and a very difficult one to score. I think “Cowboy” will show that he is still here to perform, but I feel like Pettis’ hand is going to be raised in the end.
Prediction: Pettis by decision. It will be a close fight and could go either way. But I will stick with Pettis for this one.
Pettis by decision. +250.
Heavyweight: Greg Hardy vs Yorgan De Castro
Yorgan De Castro returns to the Octagon for the second time to open up the main card of a massive event, against a big name like Greg Hardy.
Both of these fighters are heavy, heavy hitters. Hardy was knocking people out left, right, and centre before he went the distance with Ben Sosoli. Since then, Hardy lost a short-notice fight by unanimous decision against a massive heavyweight prospect in Alexander Volkov.
Although De Castro is only making his second UFC appearance, he is no stranger to fighting, and can put anyone away in an instant. He proved that the last time out against Justin Tafa, when he caught him coming in with a vicious counter that knocked Tafa out cold.
This fight will not go past the first round. Both of these guys hit like trains. One of these guys are going to hit the canvas early in the fight. Although there is no crowd to cheer them on, I still believe that this one is going to be done early. It could go either way.
Prediction: De Castro to win by KO/TKO in round 1. I felt all week that Greg Hardy was going to be stunned in this fight. From watching the both of these guys fight, I think Hardy is more skillful. However, the weight is all on Hardy’s shoulders, and because of that I feel De Castro could land the knockout punch. With nobody in attendance, I feel De Castro will come to get the win and climb the ladder in the heavyweight division. I don’t think Hardy will perform the same way with no crowd.
1. De Castro by KO/TKO in round 1. N/A.
2. Hardy by KO/TKO in round 1. N/A.
Featherweight: Calvin Kattar vs Jeremy Stephens
What a great fight to look forward to between two heavy hitters in the featherweight division.
Calvin Kattar has looked exceptional throughout his short UFC career so far. Out of his six UFC fights, his only two losses came by decision against Zabit Magomedsharipov and Renato Moicano, both of whom are top contenders at featherweight.
The power that Kattar possesses in his hands is enough to knock anyone out. Since joining the UFC, Kattar was able to put away two top featherweights in Ricardo Lamas and Shane Burgos.
Stephens however throws bombs in every fight. When you step into the Octagon with Jeremy Stephens, you know how careful you have to be, because in an instant your lights will be out. Stephens is also a more experienced veteran in the UFC, and if he comes out at his best, it may not be an easy fight for Kattar.
However, I do believe that Kattar will be the stronger fighter on the night. I think he will play a smart approach and initiate the pressure, while landing heavy blows in the meantime.
Prediction: Kattar to win by KO/TKO in round 2.
1. Kattar to win by KO/TKO in round 2. N/A
2. Kattar to win by KO/TKO in round 3. N/A.
Heavyweight: Francis Ngannou vs Jairzinho Rozenstruik
One of the most interesting fights on the card is the heavyweight clash between two scary animals, who both possess insane one-punch knockout power.
Ngannou is the more experienced fighter on the big stage, while Rozenstruik is only rising up the ranks. With a stunning finish in the last 4 seconds of the fight against Alistair Overeem, “Bigi Boy” will be looking to do the same against “The Predator” and be next in line for a title shot. Depending of course on the situation between Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier.
Rozenstruik has also shown his ability to take a punch and continue to move forward. If he can take the punches that Ngannou throws, and continue to pressure Ngannou backwards, he may have the cardio to pull off the win.
However, when Ngannou hits you, you crumble. It does not matter who stands in the way, when that man strikes, you will be in trouble. Ngannou is coming off three consecutive first round finishes, all of which were completed in less than three minutes.
I cannot see this fight going past the first round. Both these men hit too hard. Even though Ngannou went the full distance with Derrick Lewis, I just don’t see that happening again.
Prediction: Ngannou wins by KO/TKO in round one. I believe that this fight will end late in the first round. I can see Rozenstruik hurting Ngannou early in the fight and possibly dropping him. Rozenstruik hits really hard as well, as we’ve seen from his 9 second KO jab against Allen Crowder, and his one punch KO win against Andrei Arlovski. I think that Rozenstruik may get over-excited early on, and Ngannou will pick up the pace and close the show.
1. Ngannou to win by KO/TKO in round 1: -180
2. Ngannou to win by KO/TKO: +110.
UFC Bantamweight Championship: Henry Cejudo vs Dominick Cruz
A fantastic co-main event will see Dominick Cruz return to the Octagon for the first time in over three years. In his way is “Triple C”, who won the vacant bantamweight title against Marlon Moraes back in June of last year.
This is a very exciting bout because Cruz is not an easy opponent to beat, and we’ve seen just how difficult it is to catch him throughout his career. Cejudo is on the rise, and ever since he defeated Demetrious Johnson and became the UFC flyweight champion, he has looked spectacular and has made a big name for himself.
I can see Cejudo starting off well in this one. I think Cruz needs to find his rhythm early on, having been out for so long. But I can see Cruz finding that rhythm from the second or third round onwards, and I can see him hurting Cejudo multiple times in the later rounds. I think Cruz will pick up the pace as the fight goes on, and will put on a fantastic performance, shocking the MMA world as an underdog.
Prediction: Cruz by decision. I think Cruz will hurt Cejudo throughout the fight, but Cruz has a habit of going the full five rounds, so I gotta give Cruz the decision win.
Cruz to win by decision: +275.
UFC Interim Lightweight Championship: Tony Ferguson vs Justin Gaethje
Finally the main event, for the interim UFC lightweight title. Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson will look to claim interim gold again at 155lbs. Standing in his way is the hard-hitting brawler Justin Gaethje, who has knocked out three of his last opponents in the first round.
Both of these men fight at a crazy pace, and that’s what makes this fight so interesting. Even though Gaethje lost to both Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, he challenged both those men to the absolute limit. Since then, we’ve seen a more patient approach from Gaethje and he was able to pick his shots more carefully in his last few fights.
Ferguson however takes you to a different dark place. His unorthodox style and his great jiu jitsu defence off his back is terrifying for any opponent that steps in there with him. Ferguson does get hit, we’ve seen that multiple times in his career. But he is relentless. And he will keep going until his opponent cannot fight any longer.
The question is whether Gaethje can deal with that pace that Ferguson employs. Or can Gaethje even put Tony away early? In my opinion, the last three opponents that Gaethje beat in the opening round are nowehere near the same level as Tony Ferguson. Gaethje will be dragged into deep waters in this fight, and it’s up to him whether he can keep pushing Ferguson back, chopping down his legs, and beating on him.
This is going to be a great contest. Both of these men are going to be busted up at the end of it. I can see Gaethje putting on a performance of his life, but still coming up short in the end of a crazy battle. I can see Gaethje definitely being highlighted as a top contender in the lightweight division at the end of the fight, but Tony will still get his hands raised. This fight will definitely enter into the championship rounds.
Prediction: Ferguson to win by decision. Very close fight.
1. Ferguson to win by decision. +525.
2. Gaethje to win in round 4: +2300.
(You can really get great odds for Gaethje winning in round 4. Earlier this week, I predicted Gaethje would win in the later rounds. I will stick with Tony for now by decision in a great contest. It will definitely hit the championship rounds).