Boxing Fan’s guide to UFC 249

As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to force us indoors the appetite for live sport and live boxing especially has been growing almost by the hour. As we all sat in our homes this Saturday night ruminating about the fact we should have been watching Canelo v Saunders, Whyte v Povetkin and Josh Taylor’s home coming, the masterminds of the UFC were putting an ambitious plan into motion. Seeing this once in a lifetime opportunity to bring the boxing hoards into the MMA fold by ensuring they are the first fight sport back on your television. From the day he acquired the UFC brand Dana Whyte has been no stranger to ambitious idea’s and costly adventures. Where others in fight promotion saw chaos White saw opportunity. Talk soon began to circle about how the UFC could manage to stage an event in such unprecedented circumstances. Rumours of private planes, performance institutes and empty arenas and the now almost mythical fight island became the talk of the MMA community, all while Dana worked frantically to resurrect his fallen opus, UFC 249.

With the aid of a motley crew of characters in the White House, Florida legislature and UFC boardroom White has been given licence to host the event this Saturday in Jacksonville Florida. Whether or not you believe it wise, it is happening, and therefore as the thirst for combat sports is about to be quenched, I will take you, boxing fans, through the event giving some background on the fighters and tell you what to look out for. As well this I will recommend a fight of theirs to go back and watch to get you acquainted with each fighter, MMA in general and get you excited about Saturday night, I’ll also tell you who you might like depending on who you are a fan of in boxing!

Main event: Ferguson v Gaethje

This is not the main event people were hoping to see as number one contender Tony Ferguson was originally scheduled to take on dagestani Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, most well known for his submission victory over the irish superstar Conor Mcgregor. Ferguson however will take on a fellow American and the man they call “The Human Highlight Reel” Justin Gaethje. Although both of these fighters have a wrestling base, and came of age in the american collegiate wrestling programmes boxing fans will be pleased to know that both now favour stand up, the kickboxing/muay thai stylings that will be more familiar to us as fans of the sweet science, making it must watch TV for boxing fans. Unlike boxing however, in the UFC there is normally only one belt per weight class, however as Khabib is stuck in Russia (as a result of the lockdown) and unable to defend his title this will be for the interim Lightweight belt. Lightweight in MMA is contested at 155lbs, the equivalent of Junior Middleweight (154lbs) in boxing and this bout is between the number one and two contenders, it can only be good.

The Favourite: Tony Ferguson

Tony ‘El Cucuy’ Ferguson is a true eccentric, a wildman known for his bizarre and outlandish training regime that has seen him kicking steel pipes and waving a sledgehammer around his head while standing on a yoga ball, amongst other things. Not to mention he actually made weight too weeks ago, on the original fight date, just to prove a point. He holds a 25–3 record and is undefeated in his last 12 fights (the longest in division history), he has achieved 12 TKO’s, 8 Submissions and 5 Decisions in his career and has never been knocked out. This reflects his well rounded skill set as he has dangerous and unorthodox punches and kicks as well as a well developed Jiu Jitsu game for when he is taken down. His decision victories too reflect his conditioning, something which he was relied upon in several fights, his output is unwavering and he always comes in great shape and will be dangerous for the duration of the contest. Having beaten top contenders in all his recent bouts he is the favorite going into this fight with most experts picking him to get the victory. His boxing is not normally his weapon of choice but he does usually work a pretty good jab to set up his more exotic techniques.

Fight to watch: Fergurson v Petis, a bloody back and forth battle.

For fans of: Leo Santa Cruz, Emanuel Augustus.

The Underdog: Justin Gaethje

If you look up the word relentless in the dictionary I’m pretty sure Justin Gaethje will be the first thing you see. Boxing fans will be pleased to know that despite his wrestling background he has never attempted a takedown in the UFC instead opting to box his opponents and use his unrelenting pressure and dynamite power to win via knockout. He holds a 21-2 record with 18 big wins by way of knockout. He is coming off three back to back first round knockouts all that have come by way of punches. Justin also has the unique distinction of having more performance/ fight or the night honours than he’s had fights in the UFC, in 6 fights he has won 7 awards, four for fight of the night and three for performance of the night, safe to say Gaethje does not participate in boring fights. This record shows what many have said, that Justin Gaethje is one of the most proficient pugilists in the UFC. Although his style doesn’t always look polished to the learned eye of a boxing fan ,with a wide guard and square feet, he has been able to adapt it to his boxing game effectively into MMA.

Fight to watch: Gaethje v Barbosa, one punch KO against a brillant kickboxer.

For fans of: Mickey Ward, Jack Dempsey.

Co Main Event: Henry Cejudo v Dominick Cruz

The co-main event comes at bantamweight as two division champion Henry Cejudo defends his belt against the universally recognised best bantamweight ever, Dominick Cruz. Like almost everything on this card it was not the original fight Cejudo was scheduled to take on former McGregor foe Jose Aldo, but with also stuck in Brazil it fell to former Champion Cruz to try and dethrone the dominant olympian. Bantamweight fights in the UFC are contested at 135lbs the equivalent of lightweight in boxing. This one will be for the full title, the one Cruz held for so long.

The Champion: Henry Cejudo

‘The Messenger’ Henry Cejudo started his MMA career after a storied wrestling career that culminated in an Olympic gold medal at the 2008 games in Beijing. After using his strong base he took down and grappled his way to a UFC title shot, but his striking was exposed as his body was knee’d into oblivion by Demetrious Johnson. He rebounded, learning the lessons of this defeat and coming back with a far more effective boxing game, he beat Johnson in their rematch and has since won both of his fights by knockout via punches. This includes a win over former bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw where he achieved a stoppage in just 32 seconds with a straight right hand followed up by a barrage of punches on the floor. Cejudo is 15-2 and currently holds both this belt and the Flyweight belt at the weight division below making him one of the top pound for pound fighters in the UFC. Although his boxing is at times crude he has such an impressive base to fall back on, it’s often good enough to get the job done. His outspoken trash talk and larger than life persona have got him more headlines of late, but don’t let the cringe fool you, Henry can fight.

Fight to watch: Cejudo v Dillashaw, 31 second demolition of a much bigger man.

For fans of: Can Xu, Gervonta Davies.

The Challenger: Dominick Cruz

At his best Dominick Cruz was one of the most impressive talents MMA has ever had, he could bob and weave, stick and move with impeccable grace. He had erratic footwork and broken rhythm that was like nothing MMA had ever seen before and although his boxing was unorthodox it gelled with his footwork to make him a force to be reckoned with. His punches tend to be more based on angles and positioning rather than power or accuracy, he will often throw lazy punches to get you in the right position for an accurate one. He would also switch stances often to confuse and entrap his opponents, something he used effectively against the likes of Uriah Faber and Demetrouis Johnson. He has however been out of the ring for nearly four years, not recording a win since 2016 and leading some to question why he has been awarded a title fight at all, most assuming he’d faded into retirement. Having not been at his best since 2011 when he was forced to vacate the belt he is now fighting for due to repeated injuries I think despite all his skills and his impressive 22-2 record there is little hope for Cruz as he takes on a superstar like Cejudo.

Fight to watch: Cruz v Dillashaw, a 5 round chess match, a bloody battle of wits.

For fans of: Willie Pep, Vasily Lomachenko.

Heavyweight Showdown: Ngannou v Jairzinho Rozenstruik

The third fight on the card will pit two of the biggest punchers in the UFC against one another in a heavyweight bust up that is unlikely to go the distance. Famed puncher Francis Ngannou is on the cusp of a title fight but first he must take on Rozenstruik, the fearsome Surinamese kickboxer on a 10 fight win streak, who is looking to spoil the party. This is one boxing fans can rely on for great entertainment, there will be no grappling or takedowns from these men as both will be looking for that one nuclear punch to take the other out from the opening bell. Neither have ever attempted a takedown in the UFC, but both have a knockdown average of less than two minutes, so in MMA that means they average two knockdowns of their opponents per round. This can only end in a KO.

The Favourite: Francis Ngannou

Francis Ngannous’ last three fights have lasted a total of 142 seconds. He has knocked out all three with punches and only one of them has lasted more than a minute. They did experiments on him at the UFC performance institute and found his punching power was equivalent to 96 horsepower, equal to getting hit by a Ford escort going as fast as it can, Dana white said of the findings “It’s more powerful than a 12 pound sledgehammer getting swung full force overhead… Holy shit!”. The man they call the Predator truly is a scary individual. His boxing is wild and power focused, he’s not always balanced but he is always planted to land a power shot and that is always his sole focus. He has 10 big KO’s in 14 fights and has never been stopped depite fighting knockout artists like Junior dos Santos and Derrick Lewis, he is a far more experienced campaigner than Rozenstruik at this the top level and is therefore the favourite according to most experts.

Fight to Watch: Ngannou v Overeem, one of the scariest KO’s I’ve ever witnessed.

For fans of: Deontay Wilder, George Foreman.

The Underdog: Jairzinho Rozenstruik

Rozenstruik’s first three UFC fights lasted a total of 92 seconds, all ending by KO, punches. Just like Ngannou, Rozenstruik is a big poweful puncher with a boxing heavy style that is sure to make this a tantalising matchup. In his second UFC bout ‘Bigi Boy’ Rozenstruik recorded the second fastest KO in heavyweight history knocking out Allen Crowder in just 9 seconds and in his last bout he waited until the last 9 seconds against Overeem to deliver an equally devastating knockout blow. With a tighter guard and a more traditional boxing stance while still mixing in the knees and kicks you’d expect given his kickboxing background. He has a good jab compared to most UFC heavyweights and he is deceptively fast but I doubt he will get the chance to use these skills as I’m sure this one will be a ‘Blink and you’ll miss it” affair.

Fight to watch: Rozenstruik v Crowder 9 second smash and grab.

For fans of: Derek Chisora, Ray Mercer .

Best of the Rest!

This card is stacked with talent and there is lots of other great MMA for the boxing fan to consume on saturday night, look out for Cowboy Cerrone v Anthony Petis, a rematch between two massive names in the UFC a former lightweight champion and a perennial contender both of whom are fan favourite kickboxers. Jeremy Stephens v Calvin Kattar is a match up between power puncher Stephens and exciting striker Kattar, both of whom desperately need a win. Finally look out for the only womens bout on the card between Michelle Waterson and Carla Esparza, Esparza is not exciting but if Waterson dictates the fight it could be a kickboxing masterclass.

Ewan Breeze of SimBoxx 🥊

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