Justin Gaethje beat Tony Ferguson to the punch throughout the match and connected with the heavier blows to the head and legs to win by TKO late in the fifth round during UFC 249 held Saturday night (Sunday Philippine time) at VyStar Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Jacksonville, Florida.
Ferguson continually moved forward throughout the fight but Gaethje was the more accurate striker inflicting heavy damage leaving Ferguson’s face cut and busted up.
Late in the fifth, Gaethje connected with a left straight to the bloodied face of Ferguson who retreated into his heels, spun around and then staggered backward into the cage like a drunk.
The referee seeing that he has suffered enough damage mercifully stopped the fight.
MMA thus made a resounding return to the global stage as UFC became the first major sports promotion in the US to resume after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic forced home quarantine protocols in most parts of the world.
Just before the post-fight interview Gaethje refused to wear the Interim belt saying he will wait for the “real” one which is the UFC Lightweight belt held by Khabib Nurmagomedov.
In the co-main event Henry Cejudo retained his UFC bantamweight title with a technical knockout victory in the second round over returning Dominick Cruz.
Cruz missed with a right uppercut and Cejudo countered with a right knee to the head which sent Cruz reeling into the cage and then falling forward into the floor. Cejudo rained down unanswered punches on Cruz who was lying face down on the floor. Cruz protected himself but did not counter. As Cruz tried to stand up the referee surprisingly stopped the fight, handing the TKO victory to Cejudo.
To the surprise of everyone, Cejudo announced his retirement during the post-fight interview.
Ferguson and Gaethje traded heavy hands in the first with Ferguson continually slipping blows and switching from orthodox to unorthodox stance throughout the round. Gaethje landed heavy blows especially with left hooks then accidentally thumbed Ferguson’s right eye late in round 1.
Late in the second round both fighters threw right-handed uppercuts. Gaethje missed while Ferguson connected sending Gaethje reeling just as round 2 ended.
Both fighters continued the blistering pace in the third and fourth rounds. But Ferguson’s face was damaged badly in the third round with cuts on his right cheek and just beside the left eye. Both fighters were wobbled in the fourth round but survived.
In heavyweight action Jairzinho Rozenstruik got his wish to fight Francis Ngannou and almost immediately regretted calling out “The Predator” just seconds into the first round.
Ngannou charged at Rozenstriuk swinging both fists wildly. He missed a couple of haymakers but connected with a left hook to the face of Rozenstriuk who slumped back into the cage out cold.
It was the fourth consecutive knockout victory for Ngannou following a pair of losses by decision which included his failed bid for a UFC title against heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic.
Calvin Kattar knocked Jeremy Stephens down with a right elbow to the face. He then jumped on Stephens on the floor, split Stephens’ forehead with a left elbow during ground-and-pound forcing the referee to declare him a winner by KO.
A seething Kattar said during the post-fight interview that he felt disrespected by Stephens who came into the fight four-and-a-half pounds over the weight limit.
Meanwhile, Yorgan de Castro chopped up Greg Hardy’s lead left leg with low kicks in the first two rounds slowing him down considerably.
His strategy backfired late in the second round when he hurt his foot after Hardy used his knee to check him. Hardy eventually won by unanimous decision handing de Castro his first UFC defeat.
UFC legend Donald Cerrone suffered his fourth consecutive defeat but not before beating up Anthony Pettis over three rounds. The faces of both fighters were badly battered and busted up but Pettis was handed the unanimous decision.
Former UFC strawweight champion Carla Esparza defeated Michelle Waterson via split decision during the preliminary card.
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