Written by Jack Zampillo (@Jack_Zampillo15) — May 5th, 2020
Ah, the madness. What an emotional rollercoaster we have been on, huh? As lockdowns began, internationally-based fighters were deemed unable to travel out of their respective countries. This includes two men who were scheduled to fight for titles: Jose Aldo and Khabib Nurmagomedov. With two key assets not able to compete, how could the UFC possibly fill these holes? After multiple failed attempts at finding a compliant venue and state, UFC 249 seemed as though it was going to be scrapped.
But, the show must go on.
Dana White not only defied all odds by proceeding with an event, but in the midst of it all, managed to put together a card that has the potential to be one of the most action-packed nights in the history of the promotion. Tony Ferguson will fight knockout-artist Justin Gaethje on short notice for the Interim Lightweight Championship and UFC Bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo will make his first 135-pound title defense against Dominick Cruz.
Let’s dive into the title fights, shall we?
Henry Cejudo ©
vs. Dominick Cruz
Making his first walk in nearly a year, UFC bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo has a chance to solidify himself as one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time as he welcomes arguably the greatest 135-pounder of all time, Dominick Cruz. A 2008 Olympic Gold medalist and 2x UFC champion, Cejudo has more than enough tools to compete with a guy like Cruz. However, the question remains: Does Henry Cejudo have the fight IQ and experience to overcome the crafty verteran?
Fighting out of Los Angeles, California, Henry “The Messenger” Cejudo boasts a record of 15–2 with 7 wins by (T)KO and a resume worth noting. Henry’s past 3 wins have come against Demetrious Johnson, TJ Dillashaw, and Marlon Moraes. Those 3 names alone speak volumes to the fighter Henry Cejudo is. I feel that Cejudo and his outstanding abilities are overlooked because of the outspoken, quirky personality he possesses. Don’t let him fool you; Cejudo is a weird guy and has made a lot of questionable comments, but he works as hard as anybody in the sport. His work ethic and ability to prevail through tough circumstances have gotten him to where he is now, and it seems as though the reign has only just begun.
Henry Cejudo is such a well rounded fighter, it becomes hard to find holes in his game. He is an Olympic Gold-Medalist freestyle wrestler with fast, powerful hands that are very underrated. Stopping Dillashaw and Marlon Moraes is not an easy thing to do. But, one attribute separates Cejudo from the rest of the pack: Perseverance.
The self-proclaimed “Triple C” has prevailed through adversity his entire career up to this point. His first professional defeat was a first-round knockout loss to Demetrious Johnson in 2016. He went back to the drawing board, fixed the mistakes, and beat the 125-pound GOAT to become the Flyweight Champion in 2018. Then, nursing a severely sprained ankle, Cejudo was able to find his way and stop Marlon Moraes at UFC 238 after being out-fought in the first round. Despite all the jokes surrounding him, Henry Cejudo can flat out fight.
Making his first appearance in nearly 4 years, former Bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz comes into this fight with questions to answer. Many people, including myself, don’t believe he is the rightful number-one contender.
Hailing from San Diego, “The Dominator” holds a 22–2 record with 7 wins by (T)KO and has a resume unlike any other. With title fight wins over Demetrious Johnson, Urijah Faber, and TJ Dillshaw, Cruz is no stranger to the limelight. If there’s one thing I know about Dominick Cruz, it’s that he will be fully prepared for a war. He knows the task he has at hand, and is one of the smartest fighters the sport has ever seen. As a guy that doesn’t subscribe to “ring rust,” Cruz truly believes his experience and fight IQ will lead him to success.
Unbelievably light on his feet, Cruz uses his quickness to throw his hands from looping angles. Defensively, he may be Cejudo’s toughest test to date. Cruz also brings intangible qualities like grit and ingenuity to the table. I’m interested to see how he looks after the nearly 4-year hiatus.
The deciding factor in this fight will be Cejudo’s wrestling. The two men are fairly even on the feet, with Cejudo having the definite advantage on the ground. I think Cruz will have some success early on with his kicks, but Cejudo will go through the depths of hell to keep his belt. Cejudo’s wrestling combined with his suffocating clinch work will get the job done. The name “Triple C” will hold.
Henry Cejudo by decision.
vs. Justin Gaethje
Stepping in for Khabib on a month’s notice will be the dangerous, brute force that is Justin Gaethje. The Elevation Fight Team product holds a professional record of 21–2 with 18 wins by (T)KO. That perfectly describes the fighter Justin Gaethje is: A knockout artist. Coming off 3 first-round stoppage victories in each of his previous 3 contests, “The Highlight” is riding a significant amount of momentum with absolutely no fear.
Justin Gaethje brings a skillset to the table that makes him one of the most feared men in the division. He’s not a guy that’s going to sit back and make a fight technical. Ever since his UFC debut, a main event in which he stopped Michael Johnson, he has always been the kind of fighter to walk his opponent down with relentless pressure and a high volume of strikes.
Can you find me a Justin Gaethje fight that was boring? Didn’t think so. Gaethje doesn’t care where the fight goes because he has the ability to excel in all areas. He is an All-American wrestler, has lightning fast hands, and has proven that he can do significant damage in the clinch. He will take his opponent’s best shots just to give his. That’s what makes him so dangerous: He has a chin that is very hard to crack and even when hurt, he never stops throwing bombs. Justin Gaethje proudly boasts his nickname, and something tells me we will see plenty of highlights on May 9th.
Making his 30th octagon walk, perennial Lightweight contender Tony Ferguson is no stranger to this situation and has succeeded under these circumstances before. After dealing with a lot of adversity, Ferguson fought and beat Lightweight Kevin Lee for the interim strap late in 2017, after Khabib Nurmagomedov was forced to pull out of their originally scheduled fight. “El Cucuy,” comes in with a record of 26–3, riding a 12 fight winning streak and looking to once again claim interim UFC gold.
Tony Ferguson brings an unorthodox style that causes problems no matter where the fight is taken. The Grand Valley State product combines unexplainable cardio with an unstoppable will to win, making him a dangerous commodity for any man that stands across from him. Ferguson also possesses a tool superior to Gaethje that, if used, could throw Gaethje completely off of his game: Versatility. Joe Rogan likes to describe Tony’s style as “weird” and quite honestly, I agree with him. Tony Ferguson is a weird fighter, but weird in a way that works well for him. He attacks from different angles and does a great job of hiding strikes. Ferguson likes to throw elbows like they are punches and thrives on breaking his opponent’s will. When it comes to his ground game, he possesses a style that allows him to succeed off his back or in top position. In his meeting with Kevin Lee, Tony was able to finish the fight via triangle choke after softening Lee up with elbows off his back. Stunning hands, piercing kicks, and a sneaky submission game all make Tony Ferguson a tough task for Gaethje.
I’m going with the underdog. Justin Gaethje will walk out of UFC 249 with the UFC interim Lightweight Championship. I truly believe his constant pressure and ability to take a shot to give one will overwhelm Ferguson. Tony’s somewhat lackluster striking defense will allow for Gaethje to find his finishing blow. I am so unbelievably excited for this fight, and I can hardly wait to see how it plays out.
Justin Gaethje by knockout.
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