UFC 249 on Saturday night signaled the return of live sports action after nearly two months of darkness. To say the card delivered would be an understatement with fantastic fights, memorable knockouts and even a few shocking championship moments.
There is always a lot to unpack after a major UFC event, and we took a look at five of the biggest things to know after the outstanding card, including thoughts on new interim lightweight champion Justin Gaethje and newly retired bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo.
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1. UFC 249 delivered the right card at the right time: The UFC promised big things with the revamped UFC 249 fight card. After relocations and delays, a fight card was cobbled together that promised great action. That is exactly what fans who tuned in received. While there are plenty of arguments against events being held during the current pandemic -- arguments only strengthened on Friday when-- it is hard to argue the event was not a massive success.
The action started early withthat left Price with a grotesquely swollen and cut eye. But things continued to build in drama with Calvin Kattar's crushing knockout of Jeremy Stephens and Francis Ngannou's even more frightening 20-second finish of Jairzinho Rozenstruik before culminating in a pair of memorable championship performances. If the UFC was looking to make a splash in being "the first sport back" from the pandemic, they did just that with a near-perfect card.
2. Justin Gaethje became the ultimate opportunist: Gaethje was on the outside looking in of potential lightweight title contenders mere weeks ago. Tony Ferguson was going to finally step in the Octagon and face Khabib Nurmagomedov after the fight had failed to materialize four other times it was booked, and Conor McGregor was the next man up, according to UFC president Dana White. That McGregor had returned to the UFC and beat Donald Cerrone -- who was already on a losing skid -- in a welterweight fight did not matter, nor did the fact that McGregor only has one lightweight win in the UFC, coming back in 2016. Gaethje was looking at a year or more before he could be fit into the title picture.
Then, the coronavirus pandemic led to a wild situation with UFC 249 being moved from Brooklyn to an "undisclosed location," causing Nurmagomedov to return to Russia before travel restrictions removed him from the event entirely. Given the opportunity under these complicated circumstances, Gaethje entered the Octagon against one of the most dominant lightweight fighters on earth and completely dismantled him. Making the most out of the opportunities life presents can carry a man far and Gaethje is now in the record books as a UFC champion, even if he doesn't want to wear the belt until he has a chance to take the undisputed title from Nurmagomedov.
3. About that Tony Ferguson meme...: There has been a meme floating around the fight community for a while showing the faces of the men Ferguson has faced inside the Octagon. He has been notorious for violently rearranging the faces of his opponents, but on Saturday, it was Ferguson who left the cage with his face shredded and swollen. It was a brilliant example of how quickly the sport can turn your best assets back on you.
Also, it was a reminder of how unbelievably tough Ferguson is. He took nearly five full rounds of full-steam punches from arguably the heaviest hitter in the 155-pound division and only rarely stumbled. It was the accumulation of shots, not any one single punch, that finally did Ferguson in. But there is likely no one else in the division, not even Nurmagomedov, that could take that many of Gaethje's best punches and continue coming forward.
4. Henry Cejudo retired ... maybe: There's a gut reaction any fan or media member has to cast doubt whenever a fighter announces his retirement. We've seen too many fighters promise they were done with the grind, done with getting their face punched and just plain done, only to return to action months or years down the road. So, whenfollowing an impressive TKO of Dominick Cruz, it is only natural to think, "Yeah, I'll believe it when I see it."
There's a strong possibility that the retirement was just a negotiating ploy. That was the immediate reaction of light heavyweight champ Jon Jones on Twitter. But Cejudo's life has been consumed by competition since he was 11 years old. You don't become an Olympic gold medalist in the grueling world of amateur wrestling and then win UFC championships in two weight classes without making incredible sacrifices in your personal life. Cejudo has spent more than 20 years of his life giving parts of himself to wrestling and MMA. Maybe it really is time for him to step away and enjoy a few cheeseburgers. Or, maybe he wants that $2 million per fight he requested from the UFC after beating Marlon Moraes to win the bantamweight title.
5. Francis Ngannou is a terrifying human: Ngannou absolutely destroyed Jairzinho Rozenstruik in their heavyweight clash, taking just 20 seconds to score a knockout of one of his fellow "." Ngannou has now won his last four fights, all by knockout, in 45, 26, 71 and 20 seconds. It is a reign of fistic terror unlike any other in UFC history.
Now, Ngannou has a choice. He can sit back and wait for a title shot at the winner of the rubber match between Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier, a fight that seems like it may never happen but one the UFC seems willing to wait for. Or he can continue to throw his terrifying punches at heavyweights and hope that the run continues in a division where a "puncher's chance" is omnipresent. Whatever the choice, Ngannou is the scariest man in the scariest sport in the world.