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The legacy of UFC 249 won’t be one we soon forget, and the night hasn’t even started yet. Originally scheduled to be in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the venue the UFC was planning to use is currently no longer available, as it’s being used as a field hospital to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, the company has taken this card to the one state in the United States just brazen enough to host it, Florida. Held at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, this is one of the most stacked cards in the history of the sport, with enough heavy-hitters involved that it’s doubtful to disappoint.
Even as stacked as it is top to bottom, the top is especially heavy, with a lightweight fight that could have a ton of implications for the company at large. Though it just for an interim title, with a fight against Khabib likely awaiting the winner, two of the most exciting fighters on the UFC roster have plenty to fight for. When Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje step into the octagon on Saturday night, it could be the most-watched fight the company has ever hosted.
Let’s take a closer look at this matchup of lightweight killers to see where we can find an edge in what should be a very entertaining interim title fight.
These odds came from FanDuel Sportsbook on May 6, 2020.
Tony Ferguson (25-3-0) vs. Justin Gaethje (21-2-0)
The future of the lightweight division should become abundantly more clear Saturday night when the No. 1 contender in Ferguson faces off against newcomer (No. 4) Gaethje, who has plans of his own.
Currently sitting at 15-1 in UFC bouts, Ferguson possesses the rare quality of being both a pinpoint striker and a submission specialist. His unorthodox style of fighting is a nightmare to prepare for, and his signature elbow slashing has resulted in some of the bloodiest nights in UFC history.
Not only can Ferguson attack, but he’s also great at dodging. He’s averaged just 3.8 absorbed punches per minute and 75% defense of takedowns, so it’s no wonder why he’s long thought to take reigns of the division when ultimately given the chance.
For Ferguson, a 12-fight win streak will be on the line as he looks to set up yet another potential showdown with the division’s current undefeated champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov. First scheduled to fight back in 2015, Khabib had to pull out because of injury, and then vice versa with Ferguson backing out of a fight a year later because of one of his own. Fast forward two more incidents to UFC 249, and for the fifth time, the fight was called off, this time because of travel restrictions related to Covid-19.
What’s different than in past instances for Ferguson, however, is the level of competition that has stepped up to replace Khabib. Gaethje comes into this affair on a three-fight win streak, having most recently earned a first-round TKO against Donald Cerrone in September. His only two losses in the sport came against the No. 2 lightweight Dustin Poirier and Eddie Alvarez, both over two years ago.
Nicknamed “The Highlight,” Gaethje has earned either Fight of the Night or Performance of the Night (or both) in all six of his career UFC fights, with none of them going the distance. In fact, his 23 professional fights, only two have gone to the judges, with the most recent being back in 2014.
With this being a five-round fight, I see virtually no chance of this going the distance, as both fighters will be looking to put on a show. While I have no doubt Gaethje is the future of the division, this is by far his toughest test to date, and I think Ferguson proves to be too much to handle.