The UFC is finally back in business this weekend with a stacked card for UFC 249 in Jacksonville, Florida and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
Tony Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje
It may not be the Khabib vs. Ferguson fight that the MMA world has been crying out for, but truth be told, this alternative match-up between Ferguson and Gaethje is more likely to be a more exciting, fan-pleasing encounter due to both men’s all-action style.
In terms of raw knockout power, Gaethje has the edge here, while he also possesses very hard leg kicks and will keep up an incredible pace in the early rounds with relentless offense and an alarming lack of cocern for his own well-being.
However, Ferguson is similarly minded, but while he may not quite be able to match ‘The Highlight’s’ punching power, he is the significantly more technical, creative and unpredictable fighter, is quicker, has the better footwork, and like Gaethje has tremendous powers of recovery when he’s hurt.
Gaethje also has a strong wrestling game that he rarely implements, while Ferguson transitions between standing and mat work smoothly and is a terrific scrambler with dangerous submissions that will make him the bigger threat if they do go to the ground.
When two elite finishers who are also known to eat big shots clash in the cage, anything can happen. Gaethje will be particularly potent in the first two rounds, but if he can’t break Ferguson, ‘El Cucuy’s’ terrific cardio and Gaethje’s less than ideal preparation will take a toll.
I expect Ferguson to make use of his footwork, angles and 6.5″ reach advantage to outstrike Gaethje technically and his punishing offensive output to gradually help him gain the upperhand, leading to either a stoppage due to strikes or submission in the fourth round.
Tony Ferguson wins by TKO in Rd4.
Henry Cejudo vs. Dominick Cruz
Cruz has proven once before that he can come back from an extremely long layoff to win the title, as he did in 2016 against TJ Dillashaw, but can lightning strike twice as he the injury-plagued star returns from another 3+ year layoff to face Cejudo for the bantamweight strap?
Cruz is a special and unique talent, so anything is possible. While his physical frailties have led to him being sidelined many times, his mind is arguably the sharpest in the game and his unorthadox, movement-heavy fighting style has kept him a step ahead of virtually everyone when he has had a chance to compete, aside from Cody Garbrandt, whose counter-punching style caught him completely off-guard in his last Octagon outing back in December of 2016.
In Cejudo he’s facing a daunting challenge – a former Olympic wrestling gold medalist, who has added new strings to his bow during his subsequent MMA career en-route to becoming a two-division champion, while defeating the likes of Demetrious Johnson, TJ Dillashaw and Marlon Moraes along the way.
Cejudo is the harder-hitting, stronger and more robust fighter here and he will likely feel he can eat some of Cruz’s strikes to land his own as ‘The Dominator’ isn’t known for his finishing power and relies instead on volume striking to outclass opponents.
In his prime I may well have favored Cruz here as his evasiveness, work-rate and cardio can cause Cejudo problems, but we just don’t know for sure what he’s got left at 35, and meanwhile I do believe the current champion will gradually make adjustments and come more into the fight, hurting Cruz with bigger, more meaningful blows to win by decision.
Henry Cejudo wins by decision.
Francis Ngannou vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik
With the firepower of these two heavyweights, either one could find a finish sooner rather than later, but on the other hand if they respect each other’s weaponry too much then it could end up being something of a snoozefest for 15 minute.
Ngannou is one of the heaviest hitters ever to set foot in the Octagon and has also never been stopped inside the distance in his 17 fights to date, but in terms of overall technique and versatility offensively I’d have to give Rozenstruik the edge due to his vast amount of top-flight kickboxing experience.
If this does turn into a cautious, slow-paced fight in which neither fighter is willing to throw caution to the wind then I think Rozenstruik could secure a decision victory, but I’ll remain optimistic that they’ll both be eager to end each other’s night early and Ngannou will land a thunderous blow to stop his opponent inside the first five minutes.
Francis Ngannou to win by KO in Rd1.
Jeremy Stephens vs. Calvin Kattar
Stephens has gone four fights without a victory in recent times, so the pressure is on him to break that losing streak tomorrow night against a tough opponent in Kattar.
This should be a competitive battle on the feet, but I do fancy Kattar’s chances of getting the better of it by being the quicker of the two, landing the cleaner straight punches and having a higher offensive output, though Stephens will certainly be a threat if he starts swinging for the fences in pursuit of a big finish.
Both men have strong chins though, so I think this one will actually go the distance. It’s worth noting that Stephens came in 4.5lbs overweight earlier today, which raises some concerns about the quality of his training camp heading into this one, but whatever the case I still lean towards Kattar to emerge with a decision win here.
Calvin Kattar wins by decision.
Greg Hardy vs. Yorgan De Castro
Hardy has certainly had an odd career so far, but if nothing else he’s proven he’s in this for the long haul and though he lost his last fight against Alexander Volkov, the fact he lasted the full three rounds may have actually been valuable lesson to aid his development.
Now the former NFL player is heading back to more familiar territory against a relatively unheralded opponent in De Castro, who made an impact in his promotional debut with a quick KO win, but at 6-0 is still very much in the developmental phase of his career too.
Hardy will be the more athletic fighter here and with his slow but gradual improvements I think he may look to outbox De Castro on the outside with his 4″ height and 6″ reach advantage to get back to winning ways on the scorecards.
Greg Hardy wins by decision.
Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)
Donald Cerrone vs. Anthony Pettis
Aleksei Oleinik vs. Fabricio Werdum
Jacare Souza vs. Uriah Hall
Carla Esparza vs. Michelle Waterson
Vicente Luque vs. Niko Price
Charles Rosa vs. Bryce Mitchell
Ryan Spann vs. Sam Alvey