UFC 249 is LIVE this weekend, which deserves all caps because it’s LIVE SPORTS. There may not be a crowd in attendance in Jacksonville for the card, but this might be the perfect time to wade back into the sport if you’re an occasional or lapsed MMA fan.
We’re here to catch you up on how we reached this point, tell you about the big fights you’re going to want to circle, and generally help you enjoy the event as much as possible. After all, this is LIVE SPORTS, which forgive my excitement, deserve to be celebrated.
The UFC 249 main event features Tony Ferguson fighting Justin Gaethje for the lightweight interim title. The lightweight division is where some of the biggest headliners in the sport have been over the last two years, and the title is up for grabs due to Khabib Nurmagomedov’s suspension. This came following a massive brawl that ensued between Nurmagomedov’s camp and Conor McGregor’s after their fight at UFC 229. In January the pair were both given six-month suspensions for their roles in the melee, which put the belt up for grabs.
Khabib will be waiting for whoever ends up with the title, and, well … good luck with that one.
It isn’t just Ferguson and Gaethje who have a title bout. The bantamweight belt is on the line too, with Henry Cejudo facing Dominick Cruz. If you’ve been away from UFC for a while then yes, Cruz is still fighting. Saturday marks his return to the UFC since he lost the belt in December 2016, and this weekend he’s filling in for Jose Aldo, who had visa issues. Cejudo has jumped between flyweight and bantamweight for much of his career, with his bout against Cruz being his first title defense since winning the vacant title at UFC 238 back in June.
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The Main Event
Outside of the two title bouts here are three more things to watch:
No. 1: Greg Hardy returns to the octagon. Yes, THAT Greg Hardy.
The former Panthers and Cowboys defensive end is trying to cement himself in the heavyweight division, entering with a 5-2 (1) record. Hardy has shown proficiency in the ring, though critics will say he’s been handed some pretty easy opponents thanks to his name recognition, that was until he faced Alexander Volkov in November and lost by unanimous decision.
On Saturday, he fights the heavy-handed Yorgan De Castro, who’s 5-0 in UFC and likes to throw hands. This has a chance to be a can’t-miss fight, largely because both are going to go all out, and go big.
No. 2: The REAL marquee heavyweight fight comes later in the night.
Francis Ngannou is trying to stake his claim for a future title shot by taking on former champion kickboxer Jairzinho Rozenstruik. Rozenstruik is a perfect 10-0 in UFC and rapidly climbing up the heavyweight rankings, making this a must-win fight for both athletes.
If Ngannou wins he will almost certainly earn a shot at the title. If Rozenstruik is victorious it will send a message to the rest of the division that he deserves to be in the conversation with the top fighters in the weight class.
When it comes to Hardy vs. De Castro that might be the sizzle of the heavyweight division on Saturday, but this fight is the steak. Big, meaty, extremely skilled steak.
No. 3: No crowd is going to make for a surreal experience.
Different sports have handled having no crowd in their own way. Will there be UFC employees in attendance? Just the fight camps? Will other fighters be watching? Whatever the answer is, this is a rare occurrence to see sport unfettered, and unfiltered.
The amazing thing about crowdless sports is while you lose the collective excitement a live audience brings, you gain insight that’s often drowned out by noise. Perhaps you might here some corner coaching, or get a better sense of fighters’ breathing or movement — whatever the result is it’s going to be special.
I need to know more about UFC 249.
MMA Fighting will have full bell-to-bell coverage of the event, but here’s some additional info you might want: