The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the sports world, but the UFC returns this weekend with the UFC 249 pay-per-view event from VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida on Saturday night. The card is a stacked one, and at the top, the main event promises an action-packed battle as Tony Ferguson meets Justin Gaethje in an interim lightweight championship fight.
Ferguson was originally scheduled to meet lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov when the event was scheduled for April 18 in Brooklyn. But the changing times and travel restrictions caused by the pandemic led the event to be delayed and relocated, leaving Nurmagomedov out and landing Gaethje his golden opportunity.
UFC 249 will go on as planned despite news breaking Friday night that Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza has tested positive for COVID-19, along with his two cornermen. Souza was seen wearing a mask and gloves throughout the weigh-ins on Friday and kept a distance from his opponent, Uriah Hall, during the faceoffs. The fight has been removed from the card and Souza has already left the city to return home.
Despite losing a good fight between a pair of aging names, this card still carries a ton of weight in terms of marketability and fan-friendly action. Heavyweight sluggers Francis Ngannou and Jair Rozenstruik battle for the likely No. 1 contender's spot in the division while MMA legends Anthony Pettis and Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone look to right the ship in their preliminary main event at welterweight.
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.
Buckle up, it's going to be a wild ride. Let's take a closer look at the rest of the card with the latest odds from William Hill Sportsbook.
UFC 249 fight card
- Tony Ferguson -210 vs. Justin Gaethje +175 -- Interim lightweight title
- Henry Cejudo (c) -220 vs. Dominick Cruz +180 -- bantamweight title
- Francis Ngannou -280 vs. Jair Rozenstruik +230 -- Heavyweights
- Calvin Kattar -250 vs. Jeremy Stephens +220 -- Featherweights
- Greg Hardy -195 vs. Yorgan De Castro +165 -- Heavyweights
- Anthony Pettis -150 vs. Donald Cerrone +125 -- Welterweights
- Vicente Luque -280 vs. Niko Price +230 -- Welterweights
- Fabricio Werdum -330 vs. Aleksei Oleinik +260 -- Heavyweights
- Carla Esparza -150 vs. Michelle Waterson +125 -- Women's strawweights
- Bryce Mitchell -165 vs. Charles Rosa +155 -- Featherweights
- Ryan Spann -420 vs. Sam Alvey +330 -- Light heavyweights
With such a massive main event on tap, the crew at CBS Sports went ahead with predictions and picks for the main card. Here are your pick makers: Brent Brookhouse (Combat sports writer), Brian Campbell (Combat sports writer), Matthew Coca (producer), Jack Crosby (editor), Michael Mormile (producer) and Brandon Wise (editor).
UFC 249 picks
|Ferguson vs. Gaethje|
|Cejudo (c) vs. Cruz||Cejudo||Cruz||Cruz||Cruz||Cejudo||Cejudo|
|Ngannou vs. Rozenstruik||Ngannou||Ngannou||Ngannou||Ngannou||Ngannou||Ngannou|
|Kattar vs. Stephens||Stephens||Kattar||Kattar||Stephens||Kattar||Kattar|
|Hardy vs. de Castro||De Castro||De Castro||Hardy||De Castro||Hardy||De Castro|
Campbell on why Ferguson will win: While there's certainly an element of unknown because of the unique circumstances surrounding the card's build, Ferguson is still the better fighter with more ways to win. He also needs the prize of what's at stake more considering his age (36), win streak (12) and closing window of title contention amid an astounding run of bad luck and timing. None of that will matter, of course, should Ferguson's gambling nature get too close to the flame of Gaethje's power, which has produced three straight first-round finishes. Yet no one seems to enjoy the teasing danger as much as Ferguson, whose submission skills should give him an edge when the fight hits the ground.
Wise on why Gaethje will win: When this fight was announced, it felt like a bad matchup for Gaethje. However, the caveman-like brawling style figures to find himself with a chance to finish "El Cucuy" given Ferguson's insane pace and pressure. With his recent resilience and guidance from coach Trevor Wittman, it's tough to pick against Gaethje given his unreal power in the weight class. On top of the fact that Ferguson decided to cut weight three weeks ago just for fun? There's something weird to this matchup that just leans in Gaethje's favor. Look for "The Highlight" to delight fans in this instant classic of a main event with a finish.
Brookhouse on why Ferguson will win: In a world where both men were given a full training camp, this is a near coin flip of a fight. It's still not far off with Gaethje taking the fight on short notice. The reality is both men are there to be hit and both are very good at doing the hitting. The style of Ferguson is awkward enough and he was already in full camp for the fight of his life when things changed to an easier style match-up. It's going to be violent and dangerous from start to finish, but I like Ferguson to outlast the early offensive outbursts of Gaethje before taking the fight over and scoring a late stoppage.
Campbell on why Cejudo will win: Does Cruz deserve the title shot fresh off a loss and a four-year layoff? Hardly. Would it be among the most celebrated wins given his long history of hardship and perseverance? No doubt. That doesn't mean it will happen. Cruz is 35 and constantly banged up. He'll have a size advantage on Cejudo and his difficult cadence could cause early trouble. But the longer the fight goes on, Cejudo seems to only get better. If Cruz proves unable to hurt him, a late finish from the fresher fighter isn't out of the question.
Brookhouse on why Cruz will win: It's wild to think that Cruz is receiving this opportunity, but like with Gaethje, the coronavirus opened a door. It's easy to lose sight of the fact that Cruz is only 35 years old, just two years older than Cejudo. Assuming Cruz has kept in shape and hasn't lost his awkward style, there are plenty of reasons to think he can win this fight. There are very few people who fight like Cruz, constantly working movement and angles to create offensive openings. Cejudo was not preparing to face anything like his style when he thought he would be fighting Jose Aldo. Instead of a career featherweight who is draining down to 135 for a very straightforward striking attack, Cejudo will face a tall, awkward fighter who is the best in the history of the bantamweight division. The style will make all the difference in this fight as Cruz uses movement and length to scrape by in enough rounds to edge out the fight on the scorecards.
Crosby on why Ngannou will win: It's insane to think that a de-facto heavyweight No. 1 contender's fight is flying under the radar a bit, but that's a testament to just how loaded this card truly is. It really isn't a stretch to believe -- as many do -- that this won't go past Round 1 because these two men will be out to make an emphatic statement with the stakes so high. In the end, it's hard to ignore the discipline that Ngannou has shown in his rise back to the top of the contender standings. He'll get the job done quickly as he earns a future title shot, but this also won't be the last we see of Rozenstruik.
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.