The main event of UFC 249 is Tony Ferguson versus Justin Gaethje, which I have previewed in an earlier article, so I want to talk about the best of the rest of the fights.
There are some really good fights on the rest of the card. All have the potential to be the fight of the night.
Henry Cejudo versus Dominic Cruz
Cruz has an argument for being the greatest bantamweight ever. His record of 22-2 speaks for itself and his two losses are from Hall of Fame legend Urijah Faber all the way back in 2007, and he avenged that loss, and from Cody Garbrandt, a former world champion.
He has spent three and a half years away from the sport and his last fight was that loss to Cody Garbrandt. He is now better known for his commentary and he is one of the best analysts in the game.
It is rare for a fighter to come off a loss and get a title shot but it is becoming a bit more common nowadays as fighters are able to have a bit more say in who they fight.
When Henry Cejudo defeated Demetrious Johnson to win the flyweight, arguably the greatest of all time but definitely the greatest flyweight of all time, he proclaimed he was the goat killer.
On his run to the this fight, Cejudo has beaten TJ Dillashaw, who is in the conversation for best bantamweight ever as well, and Marlon Moraes, who was beating everyone in that division and still ranked number one.
Cejudo has also upped the trash talking and while it comes off as cringeworthy, it has played a part in allowing him to have a say in who he fights. There is a list of bantamweight contenders who rightfully deserve a shot at the title, however Cejudo and the UFC have decided to go down the path of fighting bigger names that are regarded as legends.
At first it was it was Jose Aldo, a featherweight legend. However due to the pandemic he could not travel to make the fight.
They landed on Dominic Cruz, who is arguably the greatest bantamweight of all time, so why wouldn’t Cejudo want to fight him? Yes, it is a bit unfair on the other contenders, but father time will catch Cruz soon, so they may as well make the fight now.
So how do these two match up?
Having spent so long away from the octagon, it is hard to know exactly what we will see from Cruz.
Cruz has an unorthodox style and likes to use his feet a lot with constant head movement so that his opponents can not get in their rhythm and he is constantly frustrating them with long-range punches to keep them at a distance.
He can fight very well on the counter when opponents are coming after him, which is what we will see from Cejudo. His downfall, and to Cejudo’s advantage, is that when he is using his movement, he tends to duck and lower his body, which for a shorter fighter will help Cejudo.
Cejudo has one of the more impressive resumes on paper in the UFC: two division champion crowns and an Olympic gold medal in freestyle wrestling.
Despite this gold medal and wrestling being his bread and butter, his striking skills have improved dramatically and in his last two fights this has shown by the way of two knockouts.
Cruz is also a very good wrestler and has great take-down defence. This might mean we don’t see Cejudo use it as often as you may think. However, if he does and gets on top of Cruz, he has such good control from the top that it is hard to get up and he can ground and pound for 25 minutes straight if he wants to.
Cejudo being the shorter man will probably look to get in close with Cruz and nullify the reach advantage and then try to use his boxing skills along with his clinch, which was used to perfection against a world-class striker in his last fight, Marlon Moraes.
Both men have terrific gas tanks and can last the full five rounds and due to the match up we see the full 25 minutes and Cejudo getting his hand raised as he will be the one advancing, landing a couple of take-downs and controlling at least two or three rounds.
Francis Ngannou versus Jairzinho Rozenstruik
If you don’t know Francis Ngannou by now, Google him. He is the most terrifying man in the UFC, and has some of the best and quickest knockouts to back that statement up.
He has had two amazing runs for the title. His first run when the hype began was stopped by current champion Stipe Miocic, who managed to slow Ngannou down and avoid the big punches.
Ngannou before that fight believed the hype and it got to his head. He then lost to Derrick Lewis in what was the worst heavyweight fight in history, but since then he has made another surge for the title with three victories.
Ngannou’s boxing skills have improved. It is no longer just a lucky big punch that gets him victories anymore. They are more technical and accurate now, which is dangerous for everyone in that division.
Jairzinho Rozenstruik is not well known and has made his own surge up the rankings, finishing all his opponents in the UFC including legends Andrei Arlovski and Alistair Overeem. He was losing every round in the Overeem fight, until a very late finish in the fifth round got him the victory. He is dangerous in every second of the fight, but so is Ngannou.
These are two knockout artists and you can expect early fireworks, and for this one to almost definitely not go the distance.
This is a huge jump in level for Rozenstruik but someone with his power will always have a chance to win. Ngannou’s boxing, power and experience will most likely be too much for Rozenstruik and we will see Ngannou continue his claim for another title shot.
Jeremy Stephens versus Calvin Kattar
Jeremy Stephens is the type of fighter sometimes referred to as a gatekeeper. He is a very good fighter and has a lot of experience facing the best of the best in the division and tied third for most fights in UFC history, but he has never gone to the next level to compete for the title and has been in the top ten for a long time. If you defeat him, you’re off to the races and deserve someone in the top four or five.
He is an explosive fighter and has one-punch knockout power and this is quite a favourable match-up for him as both men like to use their striking to get victories.
Calvin Kattar has the more technical boxing skills and has the advantage in the clinch and will most likely use that to not allow Stephens to use his big punching ability.
The winner will be the one who can use their striking skills to avoid the other and then land the more significant strikes. Having never lost by knockout and by having more to lose, we will see Kattar win by decision.
Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone versus Anthony Pettis
What a great fight this is for both guys.
Both are in the twilight of their careers and both won’t be getting a title shot again, so they should be looking for fights that are fun and big names that people know. Clearly by this fight being made, the UFC are on the same page with this.
They have fought before back in 2013, with Pettis coming away with the victory. However, both are different fighters with way more experience.
Cerrone’s last three fights have all been in the top four of the lightweight division. Despite all being losses, it still shows how good Cerrone is to be competing with the best of the best.
Anthony Pettis has also fought the best of the best but has done it in three divisions.
Cerrone is a slow starter and has been criticised for not performing on the big stage. This fight isn’t on the big stage, and at this point in their careers a loss doesn’t hurt their stock at all, allowing them both to fight with freedom.
Pettis can do some wild stuff in the octagon. If you haven’t seen his highlights, check them out. With the freedom, we should see him throw some wild stuff and he will try catch Cerrone with that wild style and put him away.
However, Cerrone should have learned from his last loss to be wary of a fast start from his opponent and he won’t let the same happen again. We will see him settle into his groove and we will see Cerrone’s ability.
It would be nice to see a Cerrone finish, and it is possible, but getting a victory no matter what and extending his record of all-time wins is most important.