UFC 249 Fight Card: PPV Schedule, Odds and Predictions for Ferguson vs. GaethjeMay 9, 2020
UFC 249 is about as loaded a card as you'll see in modern-day MMA.
The main event of Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje is only disappointing in that it doesn't involve Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov, but in a vacuum, it's one of the most fun fights the lightweight division has to offer.
Then there's a bantamweight title fight between Henry Cejudo and Dominick Cruz. The Dominator will be gracing the Octagon for the first time since December 2016, when he lost to Cody Garbrandt. Now the ESPN analyst comes back with a chance to capture UFC gold against one of the sport's few two-division champions.
As if that weren't enough, Francis Ngannou and Jairzinho Rozenstruik will greet each other in an important heavyweight match, former NFL star Greg Hardy fights once again, and that doesn't even cover the prelims, which feature Donald Cerrone and Fabricio Werdum.
It's a strong card from top to bottom delivered to a world that has been largely without live sports amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
UFC 249 Main Card (ESPN+ PPV at 10 p.m. ET)
- Tony Ferguson -195 (bet $195 to win $100) vs. Justin Gaethje +165 (bet $100 to win $165), interim lightweight championship
- Henry Cejudo (c) -240 vs. Dominick Cruz +190, bantamweight championship
- Francis Ngannou -280 vs. Jair Rozenstruik +230
- Calvin Kattar -260 vs. Jeremy Stephens +210
- Greg Hardy -210 vs. Yorgan De Castro +175
Prelims (ESPN at 8 p.m. ET)
- Anthony Pettis -140 vs. Donald Cerrone +110
- Fabricio Werdum -320 vs. Aleksei Oleinik +250
- Carla Esparza -155 vs. Michelle Waterson +125
- Vicente Luque -280 vs. Niko Price +230
Early Prelims (ESPN+ at 6:30 p.m. ET)
- Bryce Mitchell -165 vs. Charles Rosa +135
- Ryan Spann -450 vs. Sam Alvey +325
Odds via Caesars Palace
Biggest Questions and Predictions
Can Justin Gaethje Catch Tony Ferguson Early?
Justin Gaethje is violence personified, and this fight has all the makings of an instant classic, but the longer it goes, the more it falls into Ferguson's territory.
El Cucuy is traditionally a slow starter. He has five first-round finishes in his UFC career but none have come since his first-round win over Gleison Tibau in February of 2015. His fight against Kevin Lee is a good example. The Motown Phenom outstruck him 27-13 in the first round before Ferguson came back to beat him by submission in the third round.
Ferguson is at his best as a reactive fighter. He's malleable enough to expose whatever opening his opponent gives and excels all over the cage. The only issue with that is it can take some time to figure out where those openings are.
Gaethje will be on the lookout to bring the fight early and often. He's a volume striker with a relentless attack that starts from the jump and continues through the fight. He's dispatched James Vick, Edson Barboza and Donald Cerrone in the first frame in his last three fights.
Combine those two ideas, and the result is a five-minute stretch to kick off this fight that could be one of the best rounds of the year. If Gaethje can put Ferguson on the back foot early and crack him with something substantial, we could see El Cucuy more troubled than he's been for a long time.
That's where the fight will be the most interesting. If Gaethje's early aggression doesn't pay off, the fight will tilt more in favor of Ferguson as he figures out ways to crack the Gaethje code and counter consistently.
Expect a fast-paced brawl with an explosive start and finish.
Prediction: Ferguson via third-round TKO
Does Dominick Cruz Have Anything Left?
Full disclosure, the pick here is Cejudo. But it's mostly based on the idea that Cruz—making his return after nearly three-and-a-half years away from fighting at the age of 35—doesn't have it anymore.
If this fight were taking place three years ago, the pick would be Cruz.
Cejudo is the world's best 125-pounder. He proved that by beating Demetrious Johnson in their second fight. His bout against Marlon Moraes for the vacant 135-pound crown left his status in that division open for debate. The Messenger showcased great Fight IQ and resiliency in rallying after a rough first round to finish the Brazilian in the third, but it was by no means a dominant performance.
Cruz is one of the most cerebral and well-rounded fighters in the division's history. He doesn't have tremendous speed or power, but he uses what he has better than almost anyone. His tricky footwork, frenetic grappling and ability to control scrambles would have been a great foil for Cejudo's power striking and grappling if Cruz was in his prime.
But betting that he's in his prime coming off a long layoff and the worst performance of his career—a December 2016 loss to Cody Garbrandt by unanimous decision—is not a prudent one.
In all likelihood, this bout will be determined by Cejudo's athleticism and slightly younger legs. He's 33 and had an extensive wrestling career before he stepped in the Octagon, so it isn't as though he is at his peak, but it should be enough to add Cruz to his list of victims.
Prediction: Cejudo via second-round TKO
What Will Greg Hardy Look Like?
Like it or not, the UFC is heavily invested in Greg Hardy's MMA career.
The former All-Pro defensive end has been a divisive presence on the roster, given the domestic violence allegations that contributed to the end of his football career. But Dana White loves the name recognition of having a former NFL veteran on the roster, and the organization has done what it can to push Hardy while giving him a chance to grow as a fighter.
Saturday night's card is the latest example of that. He'll get the opportunity to be on the main card of a pay-per-view despite being anything but dominant in his time with the organization.
Hardy's run in the UFC has been a mixed bag. He was disqualified from his first fight because of illegal knees against Allen Crowder. He then came back to win the next two fights in a row against opponents who were easily overwhelmed by his size and athleticism. Then he had a unanimous-decision win overturned to a no-contest for illegally using an inhaler between rounds against Ben Sosoli.
Hardy saw real competition for the first time when he fought Alexander Volkov in November 2019. The 31-year-old held his own in a unanimous-decision loss, proving he still isn't ready for the big time but still has the potential to pick things up.
Now in his ninth pro fight since debuting in June 2018, he's fighting a relative unknown in Yorgan De Castro. The 33-year-old will be fighting in the Octagon for the second time but is a live dog. He knocked out Justin Tafa in the first round in his UFC debut, showing he has the power to stand up to Hardy and make him earn a win.
Rather than stay in the gym or walk away from the sport after some rough showings, Hardy has stayed busy and continued to take fights. More impressively, he has shown improvement each time out. He could continue to do so by handling a power puncher with tools that could match his.
Prediction: Hardy via decision