Fight Notes: UFC 249
The UFC's first event since UFC Fight Night 170 (Fight Notes), which took place almost 2 months ago, UFC 249 is not without controversy. Following a lengthy saga of events, including the UFC attempting to self-regulate on tribal land in California, UFC 249 was cancelled and rebooked in Florida — on the same date that UFC 250 was originally scheduled for. This is not because Florida has done an especially good job of handling the COVID-19 pandemic, far from it, but because governor Ron DeSantis designated MMA and professional wrestling "essential" businesses.
Nevertheless, they persisted. Even with Ronaldo Souza testing positive for COVID-19, and having his fight with Uriah Hall scrapped at the last minute, the show went on. The UFC's safety protocol was kept a mystery until just a few days before the event. There will be 2 more shows over the course of the next 7 days, so the efficacy of these measures will be under intense scrutiny — and deservedly so. There are also reports that fighters and media were required to sign agreements barring them from speaking out about the safety measures, which is bodes well considering the Florida state government's willingness to protect employers whose actions infect people with COVID-19.
Throughout the event, the futility of a lot of the safety measures became very apparent. Some staff wore face masks, others did not. The commentary team didn't wear masks, and Joe Rogan interviewed fighters and stood right next to them. Fighters obviously did not wear face masks, and would hug their cornermen pre-fight, and the masks would come off and on fairly randomly. They may as well have not bothered with the masks, given the lax enforcement of distancing protocols. I understand that everyone is going to take a while to adapt to the "new normal," but that is just more evidence that we are not ready to resume live events like this.
The circumstances of the UFC's operation during the pandemic will be the subject of further articles. Since we've covered the broad strokes of the situation UFC 249 takes place in, here is how the fights went.
The pay-per-view main card kicked off with a wretched fight between Greg Hardy and random fat guy Yorgan De Castro. The first round at least had some intrigue as De Castro went to town on Hardy's lead leg with kicks, and landed a few good power punches. The fight then progressed into tepid heavyweight territory, as Hardy, a marginal heavyweight with nothing but an impressive physique to his credit, was unable to do anything significant. Somehow, 3 rounds passed with little significant action and Greg Hardy won a sweep of 30-27s. I would have accepted 29-28 across the board, but whatever; this fight was trash and no one needs to spend an extra second thinking about it.
Calvin Kattar and Jeremy Stephens was a gritty, throwdown war. Stephens did miss weight by 4.5 pounds, but that is not something I think one can be harshly criticised for given the circumstances. Initially, it looked like Stephens was going to roll over Kattar, as he chewed him up with leg kicks and hard punches over the course of the first round. Kattar was able to adjust, though, and started landing back. Stephens was unable to adjust, and eventually took a huge elbow to the face that dropped him, and Kattar swarmed him immediately. A huge win for the surging Kattar, and a rough loss for the veteran Stephens who is likely never going to get anywhere near a UFC title again.
Then Francis Ngannou murdered Jair Rozenstruick. It took him exactly 20 seconds to absorb a single leg kick, rush Rozenstruick and throw a few wild punches and crumple him to the canvas. The heavyweight division is a wasteland, Rozenstruick has a decent amount of talent but it was obvious that Ngannou's brute power was more than sufficient to just steamroll his way through this fight. Heavyweight 101, violent as Hell.
The co-main event gave us the second WEC callback on this card, as Henry Cejudo fought a returning Dominick Cruz. The first round played out like a typical Dominick Cruz fight, with the former bantamweight champion exerting a lot of effort to accomplish not s whole lot. Cejudo spent most of his time chopping away at Cruz's legs with nasty kicks. The second round looked to be more of the same, until Cruz ate a flush knee right to the chin. Cruz tumbled backwards to the mat, Cejudo swarmed him with punches and forced referee Keith Peterson to step in. Cruz did seem to be recovering just as the referee was stepping in, but what's done is done — and I think he was en route to eating more punches. Then, to the surprise of everyone, Cejudo retired in his post-fight interview, for whatever that is worth (very little). Dominick Cruz protested the stoppage but I don't think it really mattered, he had nothing to offer Cejudo, so I look forward to him and Faber rematching for the title before year's end.
The main event delivered the copious amount of violence everyone expected. Ferguson tried to take the lead while an uncharacteristically composed Justin Gaethje did well to parry these attempts and land hard counter shots. Gaethje also piled on the leg kicks, as is his custom. Ferguson's chin was tested often and passed with flying colours, as he absorbed thunderous right and left-hand bombs. Undeterred, Ferguson continued to try and press forward. He rocked Gaethje with an uppercut in the closing seconds of round 2, but that was the bulk of his success throughout the whole fight. Things gradually progressed from a fun, albeit rugged scrap to a slaughter as Justin Gaethje began picking Tony Ferguson apart. By the final round, things devolved from a fun battle to outright uncomfortable and Herb Dean mercifully stepped in. Incredible work from Justin Gaethje, turning in the kind of tactical, composed performance that someone with his innate toughness could channel into a legendary MMA career. A shame Ferguson lost his chance to fight Khabib, yet again, and took such a brutal loss for his efforts.
- Justin Gaethje def. Tony Ferguson by TKO (punches) @ 3:39 of Round 5
- Henry Cejudo def. Dominick Cruz by TKO (punches) @ 4:58 of Round 2
- Francis Ngannou def. Jairzinho Rozenstruick by KO (punches) @ 0:20 of Round 1
- Calvin Kattar def. Jeremy Stephens by TKO (elbow and punches) @ 2:42 of Round 2
- Greg Hardy def. Yorgan De Castro by Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
The first televised prelim was a stand-up war between Niko Price and Vicente Luque. It was one-way traffic from Luque until he ate a front kick flush to the face, which he somehow survived, along with the follow-up ground-and-pound. The rest of the round saw the two hacking at each other's legs with kicks and trading hard shots. The second was more of the same, without the front kick or any similar moments. Luque seemed to be rallying, with his low kick to Price's calf starting to add up along with his relentless forward pressure. In the third, Luque looked to tire a bit but didn't get any less aggressive. Price's face was a broken mess, a situation only compounded when he leanded into a perfect counter right hook that sent him down like he'd been shot. Luque briefly jumped on Price, but opted to let him back up. At this point, referee Jason Herzog wisely stepped in. After the ringside physician examined Price's rapidly swelling right eye and called off the fight. This was an incredible war, made even more visceral without the crowd — the steady rhythm of punches landing on each fighter's face, climaxing in the loud crack of the finishing shot. Easily a Fight Of The Night worthy performance.
Next, Michelle Waterson and Carla Esparza both gave us performances we have come to expect from them. Waterson did a great job mimicking a point karate fighter, trying to land shots from range by darting in and out. Esparza, as is her custom, did very little except land a couple of takedowns — which lead to no significant positional dominance. This went on for 3 rounds, we got duelling 30-27s and Carla Esparza notched yet another UFC win I can't tell you a damn thing about.
The heavyweight scrap between ancient veteran Aleksei Oleinik and fellow old dog Fabricio Werdum was as sloppy as you would expect. Oleinik peppered Werdum with a barrage of uppercuts and looping power punches, but couldn't put him away. Werdum looked terrible in the first round, but managed to stage a comeback in the second. Oleinik looked to be tiring, the result of his labour-intensive striking 'style.' Werdum got better as the fight wore on, likely won the second and definitely won the third round. Oleinik displayed good ground defence, and ultimately won a split decision over the former UFC heavyweight champion. Credit to Oleinik for defending a variety of submissions from an all-time great grappler in Werdum.
The final televised prelim was a rematch of a fight we saw 7 years ago, as Donald Cerrone and Anthony Pettis, a pair of WEC and UFC veterans with countless highlights, gave us a solid prelude to the pay-per-view. For a fighter who has been so plagued by injuries, Anthony Pettis' durability has never been in question, and he absorbed a lot of hard shots from Cerrone, including a flush headkick in the third round that didn't even faze him. Cerrone, likewise, seemed sharp and lucid despite a lengthy career, gruelling schedule, and a recent skid of TKO losses. What we got was a close, tough fight between a pair of modern legends; Cerrone did well to avoid being overwhelmed and Pettis was, likewise, able to avoid being trapped against the cage and wilted. Consensus had Cerrone winning the fight, 29-28, but the judges were unanimous in their disagreement. Even Pettis himself felt Cerrone won the fight.
- Anthony Pettis def. Donald Cerrone by Unanimous Decision (29-28, 19-28, 29-28)
- Aleksei Oleinik def. Fabricio Werdum by Split Decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
- Carla Esparza def. Michelle Waterson by Split Decision (27-30, 29-28, 30-27)
- Vicente Luque def. Niko Price by TKO (doctor stoppage) @ 3:37 of Round 3
The first fight on tap involved Sam Alvey, but thankfully was a bit more engaging than usual. Ryan Spann took Alvey down, and almost submitted him with a standing arm-triangle choke, but Alvey remained composed. The rest of the fight was your typical Alvey fight where he had minimal output, fished for counters that never quite materialised, but was able to keep his opponent uncomfortable enough to slow their output. After winning the first two rounds, Spann was exhausted in the third and Alvey was able to stun him with a counter right, but didn't have enough time to capitalise and work for a finish. Decent fight, all things considered. I had it 29-28, as did all of the judges.
Bryce Mitchell and Charlie Rosa, on paper, looked like an even-money grappling battle. Mitchell opted to throw that script in the garbage and ragdoll Rosa for the entirety of their 3-round fight. Rosa had literally no offence, as Mitchell repeatedly took him down, threatened head-and-arm triangles and twisters. Yes, twisters, plural; Mitchell made 3 very close attempts at the rare submission, but Rosa was able to defend. I gave Mitchell a sweep of 10-8s. Post-fight, Mitchell was afforded the opportunity to request camo fight shorts — which we are informed he will receive. We were then treated to an embarrassing, clumsy video featuring Donald Trump. For a guy who's only qualification was being on TV, he sounded like an imbecile who couldn't even cut a basic promo.
- Bryce Mitchell def. Charlie Rosa by Unanimous Decision (30-25, 30-24, 30-24)
- Ryan Spann def. Sam Alvey by Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
The card didn't open that well, with a mediocre Sam Alvey fight, but we got some quality violence from the next 2 fights, and all-in-all a respectable set of preliminary bouts. Even in pandemic conditions, I am not lowering my standards, so there we still issues — the Esparza / Waterson and Hardy / De Castro fights specifically. The co-main event had a perplexing ending, and the main event was definitely entertaining. Overall, this was still a good card; under normal circumstances, this would have been considered a successful event. I will have a lot to say in the follow-up articles to this event and in general.
On one hand, I am glad there were fights for people to enjoy. On the other hand, I have a lot of concerns about conducting live fights at this time. I will leave it at this: thank you, to the fighters who put in the time and effort to compete and for their families for indulging this insanity in such a precarious time. I look forward to a post-COVID-19 world where we can all move forward with fights and other forms of live entertainment. When they inducted GSP into the UFC Hall Of Fame, I was reminded of the amazing experience I had attending UFC 158 — something I will never forget.
Published: May 11th, 2020.