The ride to UFC 249 has been a wild one. UFC President Dana White has insisted that the card will happen and while travel restrictions, crowd gatherings, and venue closures have all gotten in the way, White has apparently gotten over all of the hurdles to keep this card together.
UFC 249 is on… all thanks to Dana White
The downside is that fight fans won’t get to see Tony Ferguson take on Khabib Nurmagomedov. It’s the fifth time we’ve seen a fight between the two of them lined up only to see it eventually get nixed. The upside, sports fans (and fight fans) will finally get to see some professional sports back on the map after almost everything has been canceled or postponed.
All of the major sportsbooks have betting lines up on the event, so let’s take a closer look at the main bouts on the card.
Tony Ferguson vs Justin Gaethje
Ferguson is currently riding a 12-fight winning streak into this UFC 249 bout and enters as the Interim UFC Lightweight Champ. Overall, he’s rated as No. 10 in the pound-for-pound rankings and is the No. 1 contender to Khabib Nurmagomedov in the Lightweight Division.
Ferguson is an active fighter with a never-ending engine. He’s skilled technically and has a six-inch reach advantage here, which he’s going to try to use to his advantage. He’s going to want to keep his distance and avoid getting on the inside with Justin Gaethje. If he can, he’d be smart to take him down where he’ll probably have the edge.
Gaethje is a damaging fighter who – to an extent – also has a constant motor. He’s more of a fighter who goes in with reckless abandon, though, than being technical. However, he has gotten better technically of late too. He’s going to come forward and he has more power than Ferguson.
Both fighters like to bring the pressure here it’s just who will be able to handle it? I actually see this fight more as a coin toss than the odds indicate, so I’ll take a flier on Gaethje. The line has already come down on him as Ferguson was up near -200 before, so it seems like some other bettors agree.
Henry Cejudo vs Dominick Cruz
Dominick Cruz is back after a three-year layoff and it will be interesting to see what he looks like at UFC 249. Last we saw him, he took a loss to Cody Garbrandt on December 30th, 2016.
That was his first loss in nearly 10 years, though, so he was one of the best fighters in the bantamweight division. However, his body has been broken down ever since. Cruz revealed that he first dealt with plantar fascia tendinitis and then suffered a broken arm in 2017.
He was expected back in January of 2019 but he injured his shoulder late in 2018. He’s apparently back to full strength now but it’s now been nearly three and a half years since he’s fought.
What’s bizarre is that he’s used to these long layoffs. He didn’t fight once between October 1st, 2011 and September 27th, 2014. Then he took another year and a half off before he fought again.
On top of that, he’s stepping in against Henry Cejudo at UFC 249, who is just one of four UFC fighters ever to hold belts in two different weight classes. Cejudo is a very balanced fighter who has power in his hands but also has Olympic-level wrestling.
It would be surprising if Cruz could beat Cejudo in his prime. At this point, I’m not expecting Cejudo to struggle.
Greg Hardy vs Yorgan de Castro
Greg Hardy continues to be groomed for a rise in the UFC but he’s coming off a loss. Throughout his career, he’s been giving incremental baby steps but he struggled in his last bout against Alexander Volkov. In fairness, Hardy took that bout on short notice but he was worked over. Now he’ll have a more manageable opponent in front of him in De Castro.
The problem with Hardy is that he has punching power, some athleticism, and not much else. We’re hoping to see some growth here but who knows.
De Castro is relatively unknown and is ranked No. 43 in the Heavyweight Division by Tapology but he is more diverse of a fighter. He’s going to use leg kicks to weaken Hardy’s base. That should lead to more points for him.
Both fighters have power but if Hardy doesn’t get the knockout, I expect De Castro to win on the judges’ scorecards.
Pick: De Castro +172
Jeremy Stephens vs Calvin Kattar
We’ve seen the price tag on Kattar inch up a bit as he opened around -235 but he’s now at -250. That’s because many people feel good about him getting the win on Saturday.
Stephens is just one year older but has so much more wear on his body. Kattar has fought just 24 times; Stephens has fought 45. While Stephens is undoubtedly a warrior, some are wondering if he’s nearing the end of the line.
He hasn’t won any of his last four bouts (three losses and one no contest) and he’s just 5-8 in his last 13 outings. He seems to still get wins against journeyman but struggles against young up-and-comers. Kattar seems to be in that category but we’re not exactly sure.
Kattar is 20-4 in his career but he is just 2-2 in his last four. The two losses were decisions to Zabit Magomedsharipov and Renato Moicano. There are still question as to whether Kattar is truly on course for bigger and better things in the UFC or whether he’s a middle-of-the-road fighter.
I don’t love laying this type of juice but I do think Kattar is the better fighter here. We should see plenty of fireworks as this bout should be fought standard and both fighters should trade plenty of blows. In the end, though, I’m expecting Kattar to earn the knockout win.