UFC 249 Predictions: Bleacher Report Staff Main Card PicksMay 7, 2020
UFC 249 Predictions: Bleacher Report Staff Main Card Picks
Live mixed martial arts action finally returns Saturday at UFC 249, which boasts a stacked card featuring important divisional matchups along with a violent main event dustup between two of the best action fighters in the world.
But before the UFC kicks off its hostile sports world takeover plans on ESPN+, with Tony Ferguson facing Justin Gaethje for the interim 155-pound belt—along with that "100 percent" guaranteed next shot at Khabib Nurmagomedov that president Dana White and the UFC are promising the winner down the line—you probably want to get your prediction on with three of your favorite combat sports writers.
So read through our UFC 249 main card predictions, and be sure to leave us yours in the comments section.
Greg Hardy vs. Yorgan De Castro
People don't like Greg Hardy, but he's a super athlete who can fight. The last time I saw Yorgan De Castro, he scored an epic one-punch knockout of Justin Tafa at UFC 243. That was a big win for his UFC debut, but Hardy's decision loss to Alexander Volkov in September 2019 is the kind that will only help make the former All-Pro NFL standout a better prospect. Athleticism matters in combat sports, and Hardy's got all the tools to put De Castro down and out.
Hardy, KO, Rd. 2.
Nothing says "let's kick off our troubles and have a good time" like starting your pay-per-view ($64.99 for ESPN+ subscribers) with one of the most reviled figures on your roster. Hardy is 2-2  since joining the company—not the kind of data point you want if you are trying to justify his main-card existence on its own merits.
De Castro looks to be mere cannon fodder, but he's plenty explosive in his own right. He will be giving up size here, but my spidey sense tells me Hardy starts a fire he doesn't have the skill or fast-twitch athleticism to put out. It'll be a barn-burner, but what you need to do is sound the upset alarms.
De Castro via unanimous decision.
Maybe Greg Hardy is going to be a good fighter one day. Stranger things have happened in this sport, such as deciding to bring someone with Hardy's checkered past into your promotion in the first place. But there's been no sign of the aptitude required to compete at the top levels of mixed martial arts.
Hardy has looked uneven in bouts against competition mostly hand-picked to make him look like a rising star. De Castro, giving up size and reach, is another victim in waiting. Unfortunately for Hardy, however, he has a little bit of pop. As Scott might say, "bang the upset drums" for this one.
De Castro, TKO, Rd. 2.
Jeremy Stephens vs. Calvin Kattar
If the main event doesn't deliver the goods, this one could turn out to be the Fight of the Night. Jeremy Stephens and Calvin Kattar are both standouts. They are also both coming off losses to rising contenders who just seemed to beat them to the punch. I like Kattar's precision and accuracy to score the nod in the judges' eyes in a super-fun throwdown that turns some heads.
Kattar via unanimous decision.
Kelsey likes Kattar to win a decision in "the judges' eyes." I see what you did there, Kelsey. When we last left the hard-hitting if mercurial Stephens, he was losing a rematch with Yair Rodriguez after their original bout, held a mere month before, ended in 15 seconds thanks to Rodriguez's pokey fingers and their unslakable thirst for vitreous humor. Kattar is a meat-and-potatoes boxer whose superpower is not beating himself. That's just what the doctor ordered against a fighter as exciting but uneven as Stephens.
Kattar via unanimous decision.
One man's "super-fun throwdown" is another's endless three-round slog. Kattar will rely on his boxing fundamentals. Stephens will spam a right hand like a PlayStation fighter who only has access to the circle button. Perhaps that will be interesting. Perhaps it will be like a 15-minute fistic version of Groundhog Day.
Who can say?
Both of these guys are more than a decade into their careers, and this is a fight with nothing at stake. I already forgot whom I was going to pick, but Stephens has been in with better, smarter fighters, so I'll nod slightly in his direction.
Stephens via unanimous decision.
Francis Ngannou vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik
Francis Ngannou seems destined to become UFC heavyweight champion someday. That, or he's just one of those fighters who comes along and looks like the real deal for long enough to get everyone on the bandwagon before succumbing to the pressure of being everyone's No. 1 guy.
Jairzinho Rozenstruik asked for this fight, which is something most other heavyweights don't seem all that interested in doing. Regardless, Rozenstruik's last-second knockout of the 39-year-old Alistair Overeem in December showed me he wasn't quite on his way to usurping Ngannou as the top contender to Stipe Miocic's throne. I like Ngannou to continue his epic knockout streak.
Ngannou, KO, Rd. 1.
This fight is hard to resist. And there's no technical analysis needed. Rozenstruick sits at 10-0, including four knockouts in four UFC bouts. Oh, and he tore Overeem's face off his head in his most recent bout. He hasn't faced anyone like Ngannou, though, who still has something to prove after those unsightly back-to-back losses to Stipe Miocic and Derrick Lewis in 2018. Maybe we should just hope this one follows the script and gives us the entertainment it's set up to give.
Ngannou, TKO, Rd. 2.
If you just looked at the result on his Wikipedia page, Rozenstruik's win against Overeem was pretty darn impressive. The Reem is a martial arts legend, a man who bridges the gap between the old days of MMA and the more technical brand of modern fighting we see today. It's a good win—on paper.
Of course, if you saw the fight, you would know he looked abysmal in the bout right up until the shocking finish. If he plows in and lets Ngannou hit him, this one will be over in the time it took to read this entry.
Ngannou, KO, Rd. 1.
Henry Cejudo vs. Dominick Cruz
On paper, Henry Cejudo seems to have everything going his way. He's arguably the top fighter in the UFC right now, and he appears to be getting better every time he enters the Octagon. He's aggressive, a great wrestler and a hard puncher who knows who to adapt to whatever is in front of him on fight night. That should be enough for him to get past Dominick Cruz, though I guess I also wouldn't be super surprised to see the challenger play the spoiler.
It's not likely, but if anyone can challenge Cejudo for the UFC bantamweight title after a three-year break from MMA successfully, it's probably Cruz. His awkward and clunky style isn't easy to figure out, and he's had one heck of a career already. Still, I'm guessing Cejudo gets the job done over the inactive former champ by decision.
Cejudo via unanimous decision.
As Kelsey pointed out, Cruz is a living, breathing MMA computer. He will be one of the best coaches in the world someday. And for all the greatness he's achieved as a fighter, his exhaustively documented injury history and the extended layoffs it has created (this is his first fight since 2016) makes him a risky play in any fight, much less one against a dominant champion (and tough stylistic matchup) in Cejudo.
Cejudo via unanimous decision.
How is Dominick Cruz fighting for a UFC title more than three years removed from the last time he stepped into the Octagon (in a loss to Cody Garbrandt)? Who can say? I've given up trying to figure out how decisions are made at the Ultimate Fighting Championship. You just have to turn off your brain and go with it.
If this were prime Cruz, he would be a wide favorite. Cejudo is a (mostly) career flyweight for a reason—at 5'4", he's a tiny guy who is going to be outsized every time he competes at 135 pounds.
But this isn't prime Cruz. He's 35 going on 350, coming off the second three-year layoff of his career. This is filler until UFC figures out what it wants to do with the flyweight division and comes together behind a challenger who has earned his spot in the cage.
Cejudo, TKO, RD 2.
Tony Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje
This isn't the main event people were hoping to see, but Ferguson vs. Gaethje is still a massive fight in the 155-pound division. I've seen lots of people picking Gaethje to win based on situational things such as him being the fill-in for Khabib Nurmagomedov or even the idea that Ferguson's weird power move of making weight for the original date will somehow hurt him three weeks later. But Ferguson has always marched to the beat of a different drum, so I'd only be worried about the guy if he suddenly started acting normally.
Ferguson is the most complete UFC fighter in the world to my eyes. He can strike, wrestle and submit people, and he's tough as nails. Sometimes, people fall in love with the wrong things when picking fights. Ferguson's style is so inimitable that it would seem like a decent idea to pick the more aesthetically pleasing Gaethje to score the big upset. Nope. Ferguson takes Gaethje's best shots early in the fight and then overwhelms the hard-charging fighter until he chokes him out late.
Ferguson, Submission, Rd. 4.
I'm not viewing this as some kind of Khabib consolation match. This bout takes a back seat to none.
My prediction? Pain. Both of these guys are going to get hurt. In a nutshell, Ferguson has the gas tank and the all-around game, while Gaethje has the power and the takedown defense. There will be no backing down. When the dust settles, Nurmagomedov will have a new challenger. To my way of thinking, no one tops Khabib once the action hits the mat. So if you would like to see a new lightweight champion, Gaethje is your guy. With Gaethje, it only takes one.
Gaethje, KO, Rd. 1.
I don't know what to make of this fight. Ferguson has all the tools to beat Gaethje, a valiant, awesome, predictable fighter.
He also has a proclivity to beat himself.
Ferguson's odd approach makes him a nightmare to bet on or against. But he's succeeded in the past against elite competition. Gaethje, by contrast, has beaten the really good fighters and lost to the great ones. I suspect that streak continues here.
Ferguson, Submission, Rd 3.