UFC 249

DANG, that was a scene.

Jim Rome
May 11, 2020 - 9:39 am
Justin Gaethje and Tony Ferguson

USA Today


UFC 249 was held on Saturday night. And DANG, that was a scene. First off, it was good to have live sports back. And it was a great card. And a great event. And honestly, not having fans there did not bother me nearly as much as I thought it would. In fact, I acclimated pretty quickly. And the most of the fights were so compelling and the production so good, that while I would never say, I didn’t miss the fans, I will say, it was still great even without them. Fact is, did you really ever know what it SOUUNDS like when a world class mix martial artist breaks another one’s face? Now you do. The SOUNDS of the evening were amazing; and we would have never known what it one dude punching another dude in the face with four ounce gloves sounded like if not for the pandemic. 

That said… it was weird to hear fighters saying that they could hear Daniel Cormier calling the fight and they were actually hearing his strategy and his advice, and employing it. That was wild. Greg Hardy called D.C.’s commentary a game changed and adjusted in fight?!?! That’s wild. 

But not nearly as wild as what happened in the three biggest fights of the night. Let’s start with Francis Ngannou.

He went into Saturday night having won three straight fights. And here was how long those fights lasted: 45 seconds, 26 seconds, 71 seconds. And Saturday night was even shorter.

Here is the entire fight.

20 seconds. Grand opening, grand closing. Thanks for coming.

And the fact that he did that in front of an empty arena almost made it feel like he sparring just some dope, off the street, who stepped in the cage. Like Kimbo Slice blowing up some dude in a park somewhere. But that’s now how that was. That wasn’t some dope. That was a guy who was unbeaten in MMA. Someone who had knocked out his last four opponents. One of the top contenders in the heavyweight division

Or he was. Until his face, met Ngannou’s fist. 

And Francis dropped him like a sack of flour. And that wasn’t even the biggest moment of the night. Because then you had Henry Cejudo defending his title against Dominick Cruz. And he did, battering Cruz with leg strikes…vicious, vicious kicks in the first round and then finishing him in the 2nd. 

With that Cejudo became the first fighter ever to stop Cruz in a fight. I had no idea what to expect from Cruz in his first fight since 2016. But he looked good, particularly in the second round, and you can argue whether or not referee Keith Peterson should’ve stopped the fight when he did at 4:58 of the second round. I know Cruz would make the point that he was getting to his feet at that moment. But what you can’t argue is that what happened next was even more shocking.

Go in, make history, and retire. That’s a damn good night. He’s one of only four fighters in history to hold two belts and the same time and the only fighter in history to be asked about his plans for the future, and drop this legendary line: "I want to give my time to procreation." 

What a line. “I want to give my time to procreation.” Some people want to give their time to charity, he’s giving his to sex. Michael Jordan retired from his sport and took up another sport. Henry Cejudo is retiring from his sport and taking up another. And yes, I’m aware that he’s a gold medalist in wrestling. Save that tweet or email. It’s a little too obvious.

"I want to give my time to procreation" just blew past “I’m taking my talents to South Beach” for all-time greatest explanation of plans. What are you up this weekend? I want to give my time to procreation.

And there was still one more fight to go after that. Tony Ferguson v. Justin Gaethje for the interim lightweight belt. It was the fight that everyone had been hyping for weeks. The one that everyone was guaranteeing would be pure violence. Nothing lives up to the hype, but that sure as hell did. I didn’t know those two things were mutually exclusive. I mean, you can kicks people’s asses AND procreate too, right? Personally, this sounds more to me like a negotiation ploy and I really don’t think we’ve seen the last of Cejudo, but for a guy who has been accused of being extremely cringy, and rightfully so, that was a great line. Even if he didn’t mean. And a great performance. And he was right when he said, afterwards, I’m a damn good fighter. He is. One of the best in the world. Another reason I don’t think he’s walking away right now. At least not for good.  

But the performance of the night, really one for the ages, belonged to Justin Gaethje. He is an absolute stud. And Tony Ferguson is a warrior. Tony Ferguson is one of the toughest dudes I’ve ever seen. And this cat has a concrete jaw: how else do you explain him still standing after eating the shots Gaethje was landing; repeatedly. Gaethje has unbelievable power and accuracy in his strikes: it got to the point where it was hard to watch: but it was also clear, Ferguson was not going down, nor was he giving in; the ref was going to have to step in; and thankfully Herb Dean ultimately did. Because no one, not even Ferguson can endure that kind of punishment.

Ferguson had won 12 straight. He’s a nightmare to prepare for, but Gaethje made it look easy. He Gaethje dominated from beginning to end. That was an absolute clinic. One of the best fights I have ever seen and one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from a fighter. 

And he dropped this knowledge: “I had to lose to change. You can’t fix what is not broken. We figured out what was wrong. I was getting hit too much. I was getting — to be honest with you — I was having too much fun. Both times I lost, I became complacent because I was having so much fun.”

Too much fun meant back to back losses a few years back. But Saturday night, the fun was different. It was smarter. It was more controlled. He was never reckless and definitely never complacent. He wasn’t brawling, he was fighting. He was tactical.

And he completely dominated a guy who had not lost in eight years. That is how you earn the interim belt and the shot at Khabib. And I loved him throwing away the interim belt, saying he’d wait for the real one. 

And even though he lost, I came away from that fight with more respect than ever for Ferguson. Remember, this is not the fight he trained for: he’s had fight with Khabib cancelled five times: he never got that shot that he deserved. So he agrees to this fight, obviously, an extremely dangerous fight, on short notice and not even for the belt but for the interim belt; and for who, for what: he got his face broken. Literally. So why do it: for the paycheck, of course. But even more so, this is who this dude is: the ultimate warriors:  I have no idea how he stayed on his feet, how he kept coming out for the start of each round. And then was actually pissed when the fight was stopped.

Because that was an unholy beating he was receiving and he kept coming. As White said, "I actually thought the fight should have been stopped sooner. Tony took a lot of damage tonight. Not only did he take a lot of damage, it was from a guy who hits like a bleeping truck, a guy who punches very hard and usually knocks people unconscious when he hits them with those shots."

According to White, Ferguson suffered a fractured orbital bone, but he didn’t stop. The fight was only stopped when Gaethje landed another huge left in the fifth and referee Herb Dean had seen enough.

All in all, UFC 249 delivered. It was a great card and great to have it back, but just because UFC 249 was great doesn’t mean that every sport should be racing back right now. There were three positive tests before the fights and we don’t know what else will be coming out of it. As exciting as the card was, that doesn’t mean we should have baseball tomorrow, basketball on Wednesday, and NFL camps opening by the weekend.  But damn, it WAS great to have live sports back. Even without fans. Now we wait. And see how everyone comes out of this.