The weeks of anticipation have just continually been building and building, but the long wait has finally come to a close as the UFC returns Saturday night with UFC 249. The journey to the pay-per-view has been a difficult one, with the card now on its second date and third venue due to the chaos of the global coronavirus pandemic. Fight fans lucked out, however, as the UFC has managed to put together a loaded card from the prelims to the two headlining title fights.
Every bout on this 11-fight card has some importance to its divisional race as fighters jockey to get into title contention amid the 11 different weight classes. Let's take a look at every fight on the card, from the early prelims on ESPN+ to the main card on pay-per-view.
Get your expert picks for UFC 249 from our podcast -- State of Combat with Brian Campbell -- where we look at everything on the main card and get some in-depth analysis from UFC Hall of Famer "Suga" Rashad Evans below.
Ryan Spann -420 vs. Sam Alvey +330, light heavyweights: This is as exciting a fight as you're likely to see opening up the early prelim portion of a card. It's also a battle between two men trending in opposite directions. Spann (17-5) is riding a seven-fight win streak, with six of those wins coming by stoppage. Alvey (33-13), on the other hand, has lost three straight, two by TKO.
Bryce Mitchell -165 vs. Charles Rosa +140, featherweights: Undefeated Mitchell (12-0) did lose on his season of The Ultimate Fighter, but with those fights technically counting as exhibitions, his record remains spotless. Nine of his 12 wins came by submission, including hitting one of the few twisters in UFC history in his last outing. Rosa (12-3) is an inspiring story, having battled his way back from 30 months on the sidelines because of a neck injury to submit Dennis Bermudez last October. The win earned Rosa a Performance of the Night bonus. All four of Rosa's career loses have been in bouts that won Fight of the Night.
Vicente Luque -280 vs. Niko Price +230, welterweights: Luque (17-7-1) had a six-fight winning streak snapped in his most recent fight, a loss to Stephen Thompson. Three of Luque's last four fights have won Fight of the Night honors, continuing a trend of exciting fighters up and down the UFC 249 card. Price (14-3) is coming off a win over James Vick by brutal upkick in his last fight. He has won a Performance of the Night bonus in four of his five UFC victories.
Carla Esparza -160 vs. Michelle Waterson +135, women's strawweights: Esparza (15-6) is a former women's strawweight champion, winning the inaugural title fight against Rose Namajunas in December 2014. After going 0-2 in 2018, Esparza righted the ship, winning both of her 2019 fights, including a Fight of the Night majority decision over Alexa Grasso in her most recent outing. Waterson (17-7), better known as "The Karate Hottie," had a three-fight winning streak snapped in her last bout, a unanimous decision loss to Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Had she won that fight, Waterson could have found herself in position to challenge for the strawweight title.
Fabricio Werdum -330 vs. Aleksei Oleinik +260, heavyweights: Former heavyweight champion Werdum (23-8-1) was knocked out by Alexander Volkov in his most recent outing in 2018. Prior to the loss, Werdum had won back-to-back fights. He won the interim heavyweight championship by knocking out Mark Hunt and then submitted Cain Velasquez to unify the title in 2015. He lost the title to Stipe Miocic in his next outing, but he has since gone 3-2. Oleinik (58-13-1) has an amazing 46 wins by submission in his career. He has gone 7-4 since joining the UFC, most recently snapping a two-fight losing skid by submitting Maurice Green in January. Five of his seven UFC victories have earned him a Performance of the Night bonus.
Anthony Pettis -150 vs. Donald Cerrone +125, welterweights: The final fight on the prelim portion of the card features two big names in need of a victory. Cerrone (36-14) is a fan-favorite with 18 post-fight bonuses in his career. He is also coming off TKO losses to Justin Gaethje, Tony Ferguson and Conor McGregor in his three most recent fights. The McGregor loss came just 40 seconds after the fight began. Pettis, meanwhile, is a former UFC lightweight champion who has struggled since losing the title in March 2015. In fact, since 2015, Pettis' record is 4-8. He is on a two-fight losing skid, dropping a decision to Nate Diaz and being submitted by Carlos Diego Ferreira. Despite their struggles, this should be an exciting fight between two action fighters. Also of note, Pettis defeated Cerrone with a body kick TKO in a 2013 lightweight fight.
Greg Hardy -195 vs. Yorgan de Castro +165, heavyweights: The main card kicks off with a heavyweight fight between the former NFL star in Hardy (5-2) and the undefeated prospect in de Castro (6-0). Hardy, whose NFL career crumbled after domestic violence allegations, has been heavily featured by the UFC. He lost his first official UFC fight by disqualification after an illegal knee against Allen Crowder before winning back-to-back bouts. Hardy had an uninspiring decision win over Ben Sosoli overturned to a no contest after illegally using an inhaler in his corner and then was defeated by Alexander Volkov by unanimous decision. De Castro is also still young in his pro career. His most recent fight was a first-round knockout of Justin Tafa in his UFC debut. Five of de Castro's six career wins came via knockout.
Calvin Kattar -240 vs. Jeremy Stephens +200, featherweights: Kattar (20-4) is looking to bounce back from a Fight of the Night loss to Zabit Magomedsharipov in November. Prior to that loss, Kattar had won two consecutive fights by knockout. He has gone 4-2 since joining the UFC and has two Fight of the Night awards in that span. Stephens (28-17) has been fighting in the UFC since 2007 and remains one of the toughest outs in the featherweight division. However, Stephens has lost his last three fights and another loss could put his status with the company in jeopardy. Stephens has 10 post-fight bonuses in his UFC career.
Francis Ngannou -280 vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik +230, heavyweights: This is the prototypical heavyweight fight. Two huge men with knockout power will step into the Octagon with every expectation being that the fight will end in a KO. Ngannou (14-3) lost his 2018 fight for the heavyweight title against Stipe Miocic but is on a three-fight winning streak, all by knockout. Ngannou has never seen the judges' scorecards in a victory and has only lost via decision. Rozenstruik (10-0) has similar numbers, with nine knockouts in his 10 career wins. In his most recent fight, Rozenstruik pulled off a miracle, stopping Alistair Overeem with 4 seconds left in a fight he was about to lose by decision.
Henry Cejudo (c) -220 vs. Dominick Cruz +180, bantamweight championship: Cejudo (15-2) had already won the flyweight championship by beating the legendary Demetrious Johnson when he decided to move up in weight and make a run for the bantamweight belt. Cejudo managed to beat Marlon Moraes and win the vacant championship before vacating his flyweight title and looking to build his legacy at 135 pounds. First, he called out former featherweight champion Jose Aldo for a fight at UFC 250 -- after Aldo made an unsuccessful but impressive bantamweight debut -- but due to the coronavirus pandemic, that fight fell through and Cejudo continued his plan to beat all available legends by calling out Cruz.
Cruz (22-2) is the consensus best bantamweight in MMA history. He won the WEC championship in March 2010. That title became the UFC championship when the promotions merged, and Cruz held the title until when he vacated the belt because of injuries. He recaptured the belt in early 2016 by beating TJ Dillashaw, but dropped it in a decision loss to Cody Garbrandt at year's end. Cruz's career had been plagued by injuries and he stepped away from the sport after the Garbrandt loss, taking on a role in the UFC commentary booth. Cruz is making a return after more than three years out of action to try and reclaim his crown from one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the sport.
Tony Ferguson -190 vs. Justin Gaethje +160, interim lightweight championship: Ferguson (25-3) was set to finally face Khabib Nurmagomedov before the pandemic threw things into chaos and led to a fight between the two being canceled for a fifth time. Ferguson is riding a 12-fight winning streak into the event. Nine of those 12 wins have come via stoppage even as the quality of opponent has increased. Ferguson is a former interim lightweight champion and has 10 post-fight bonuses in his career.
Gaethje (21-2) entered the UFC after a dominant run as the World Series of Fighting lightweight champion. After a 1-2 run to start his Octagon career, he rattled off three consecutive knockout wins to put himself in title contention. Despite only fighting six times in the UFC, Gaethje has won seven bonuses with his debut landing him both Fight of the Night and Performance of the Night honors. Eighteen of Gaethje's wins have come via knockout.
Who will win Ferguson vs. Gaethje, and how exactly will each fight end? Visit SportsLine now to get detailed picks on every UFC 249 fight, all from the accomplished expert who's up almost $19,000.