UFC 249: The perfect main event, the craziest circumstances

Justin Gaethje’s title shot has long seemed inevitable. Having gathered more bonuses than he has fights, “The Highlight” is a near-guarantee to put on a show every time he steps into the cage. But with that said, no-one could have possibly predicted the circumstances of his inaugural championship bout.

Less than two months ago, Gaethje (21-2) was on the sidelines awaiting the result of one of the most highly anticipated fights in combat sports history between the reigning Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson (25-3). At the fifth time of asking, it felt like the fight was finally set to take place. But with both fighters healthy in the build, this time, the world had different plans.

The rapid breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to all sports for just under two months, bringing Khabib into Ramadan and therefore making him unavailable to compete as Dana White set off on his relentless quest to bring the UFC back in spite of the advised global lockdown. So, with Khabib unavailable until after the summer, the ever-reliable Gaethje quickly emerged as one of the key pieces in finding a new solution.

This wasn’t a surprise by any means. It was perhaps more surprising that Ferguson accepted the fight which he realistically didn’t have to take. But Gaethje was due his opportunity and it’s certainly not in “El Cucuy’s” nature to turn down a brawl (hasn’t lost in almost seven years; 12-0). This bout is an ideal matchup for both contenders, though the unprecedented circumstances are far from perfect conditions for a fight of this magnitude to take place in.

It’s a shame that this potential Fight of The Year contender has to take place behind closed doors. Ferguson and Gaethje are the ultimate showmen. They deserve fans. Their hearts deserve to be applauded when it’s all said and done. Fans deserve to witness their greatness. But unfortunately, we just have to take it for what it is right now, and that’s a fantastic matchup that will headline a card set to restore some normalcy into our lives. White is stepping out on a limb by doing whatever it takes to be the first to take an active stand against the virus and sports fans around the world are rejoicing.

There are no two ways about describing this main event; it’s hard to imagine it being anything other than a barn burner. White himself has gone on record claiming that it is impossible for this fight to disappoint. And looking at it stylistically, you have to agree with the UFC boss. You would do well to find two fighters more game to throw down with every limb than Ferguson and Gaethje.

Per UFC Stats, “El Cucuy” and “The Highlight” land a combined of over 13 significant strikes per minute (Ferguson; 5.8, Gaethje; 8.5) and they both are never willing to back down. You are very likely to find their names pinned underneath the word violence if you were to look it up in a fight dictionary. It is the perfect fight to sell MMA to sport deprived fans while simultaneously satisfying the hunger of the combat sports faithful. The card as a whole is stacked beyond belief — especially considering the circumstances.

The storyline quietly building up in the background to Saturday’s UFC 249 main event is that a Gaethje victory could put an end to the Khabib vs. Tony saga. White has made it clear that the winner of this fight will get a crack at Khabib’s belt and his undefeated record once he is ready to compete again and imagining that on Sunday morning we might no longer be talking about Khabib and Tony in the same sentence is a hard pill to swallow despite the numerous cancellations. That has been THE fight to make. But higher powers have never allowed it to come to fruition and Gaethje could soon take the steam out of it completely.

On the other hand, a Ferguson victory makes the narrative behind the Khabib fight stronger than ever. With an “El Cucuy” win, the division will be cleared. It’ll be Khabib, Tony and everyone else. It will have to be rescheduled for the sixth time and it will be the biggest fight in lightweight history bar none. So, there is a lot riding on this fight and this whole card. A lot of questions will be answered come Sunday and not only in regards to sporting endeavors. A successful and safe event would set a blue print that others could follow as the UFC is taking every precaution possible in order for things to go smoothly.

Ferguson will go into the Octagon this weekend as the favorite, undoubtedly. But in reality, this kind of a fight is a Pick ‘Em. It’s anyones fight to take. These men both love to hit and get hit. Gaethje mentioned at Tuesday’s UFC media call that he hopes Ferguson breaks his nose on Saturday, while Ferguson couldn’t hide his excitement for getting to lock fists with a fighter so similar to himself. From their verbal exchanges you get the feeling that they are like two friends who will have a beer together at the end of all of this, once the fireworks show is done.

As aforementioned, both Ferguson and Gaethje rely heavily on their hearts; they both live by the never say die attitudes. That’s where a lot of their motivation comes from. Neither of them is willing to lose. That’s what makes people so confident that this fight will go down as one of the all time greats. Gaethje emphasized that he’s going into this fight as though the day after doesn’t exist. Ferguson is more determined than ever to prove that he is the baddest man in the division and the righteous champion. They are both ready to leave their souls on the canvas.


Sports journalist based in CA, USA. Twitter: @ArionArmeniakos

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