By Mathias Berbel
UFC 249, will it happen this time? Only time will tell. This event was originally schedule for April 18th, but due to the coronavirus pandemic it was postponed until May 9th. President of the UFC, Dana White has had to cancel numerous cards due to the virus, but he has not gone down without a fight. UFC 249 will go down in history as one of the most bizarre, most memorable fight nights in the history of MMA. If you would have asked me a month ago why it would be that memorable, I would have said because we FINALLY get to see Khabib vs Ferguson after 4 failed attempts. Guess again I say today. This fight will not happen after a 5th try and people will staple the word cursed to this fight until it actually happens. I do not think this fight is cursed; I just think the fight gods are making us wait a little longer. Maybe Tony isn’t ready for Khabib but the whole world thinks he is? That is a debate for a different day my friends because now we get Tony Ferguson vs Justin Gaethje and there is no reason to complain as that is an incredible replacement for Khabib.
Today we will preview UFC 249 and I’ll give you my picks.
With that said, to all fight fans reading my work around the world today…. IT’S TIME!!!!! 12 fights that will glue you to your seat & make you want to buy UFC 249 May 9th on ESPN+ via PPV. Let’s get it on!
Light Heavyweight Bout
Ryan Spann (3-0) UFC vs Smilin Sam Alvey (11-8) UFC
- Matchmakers gave us quite the treat when I saw which fight will start off the card. Spann is coming in as a (-450) favorite against a tough experienced striker in Alvey. Alvey is on a 3 fight losing streak, probably fighting for his UFC life, and is also a big underdog at (+325). Alvey definitely has octagon time over Spann with 46 pro fights, but Spann has gotten better after every fight & is known for his jiu-jitsu and his finishing rate. Spann might have less time in the octagon but has had great competition while being undefeated in the UFC. Spann had to earn his way into the UFC by defeating now PFL champion Emiliano Sordi on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. Spann is going to be looking to submit Alvey quickly and set himself up for a big-time fight, which could land him in the LHW rankings.
Prediction: Spann by TKO Rd. 1
Bryce Mitchell (3-0) UFC vs Charles Rosa (3-3) UFC
- Can’t wait to see Bryce “Thug Nasty” Mitchell back in the octagon after his previous fight. Mitchell was able to hit the 2nd ever twister submission recorded in the UFC history against a tough striker in Matt Sales. Mitchell has shown to be very well-rounded, but his strength is really shown when he gets his opponent to the ground where he is very creative & strong from top position. Mitchell meets up with a jiu-jitsu black belt in Charles Rosa who was in danger of losing a second consecutive fight vs Manny Bermudez in his previous bout but was able to sneak in an arm bar from his back while Bermudez was pounding on him for nearly the entire first round. Bryce will need to be careful with Rosa who is resilient and dangerous from any position and has also shown he has a good stand up game. I expect Mitchell to takedown Rosa and win this fight from the top or on Rosa’s back where he will look to submit him. Mitchell comes into this fight as a (-155) favorite & Rosa is the small underdog at (+125).
Prediction: Bryce “Thug Nasty” Mitchell win via Submission Rd. 2
Niko “The Hybrid” Price (6-3-1) UFC vs Vicente Luque (10-3) UFC
- This is the type of fight the MMA community needs after such a long layoff away from sports. With that being said, this fight could be a FOTN winner. I did not shy away from that opinion because of what history has shown us with both of these fighters. The way Price was able to finish both Randy Brown & James Vick from his back illustrates just how powerful and elusive he is. Price goes for the finish at all times but that also leads to trouble when he fights strikers who are just as powerful and also better/ quicker strikers. Price has yet to see a Rd. 3 in his 10 fight UFC career and I don’t think this one will go to the judges’ scorecards either. Picking this fight is difficult because we get to see this fight for a 2nd Luque defeated Price in Oct of 2017 by submission, Luque also landed over more than 30 significant strikes on Price in their first fight. We can’t assume the 2nd fight will be the same because with time fighters only get stronger & smarter. I think Luque wins this fight because he has better boxing than Price & he will show that on his way to victory. Luque is a (-270) favorite in Vegas & Price comes in at (+220). There is great value for Price because this fight could go his way if he is able to connect early. Can’t wait for this one!
Prediction: Luque by TKO Rd. 2
Uriah Hall (8-7) UFC vs Jacare Souza (8-5) UFC
***UPDATE: Souza tested positive for the coronavirus Friday and this fight is off.***
- Great matchup for 2 guys who are looking for a big win to stay relevant in the MW title contender picture. Souza is 1-3 in his last 4 fights but don’t let that record fool you. His 3 losses have come to title contenders such as Jan Blachowitz, Jack Hermansonn & Kelvin Gastelum. 2 of those losses were a split decision. We could easily be saying Souza is coming into this fight 3-1 rather than the other way around. Souza was recently quoted saying, “he needs to fight in order to keep his home.” That seems like a lot of pressure to be put on a man while training and living through this pandemic. Souza is not a young fighter anymore. He has 34 professional fights in his resume & he has won 26 of them. The MMA Vet aims to make it 27 wins and if you understand MMA you know once you get to the top anything can happen. Souza is fighting a very dangerous and accurate striker in Uriah Hall who can win this fight with one kick if he lands it. Hall fights to the finish every time he steps in the octagon and the ultimate fighter finalist aims to make it 3 wins in a row after taking on Souza. After a tough stretch in late 2015 & 2016 where Hall lost to Mousasi, Brunson & Whitaker all in a row, Hall needed a win to get back on track which is what he did going 3-1 since. His one loss over his last 4 fights came to the hands of title contender slugger Paulo Costa who was dominant over Hall for most of the fight but Hall was able to rock Costa at one point. Hall has the accuracy and strength to finish the fight with one shot but Souza can win this fight if he out grapples Hall and gets this fight to the ground. Interesting note to add is Hall has been locked up in a gym training by himself during this pandemic with no other human contact. Good or bad thing? We will find out. Vegas has Hall at (+110) Souza comes in at (-120)
Prediction: Jacare by Submission Rd. 3
Women’s Strawweight bout
#8 Michelle Waterson (5-3) UFC vs #7 Carla Esparza (6-4) UFC
- Great fight in the strawweight division between Carla “Cookie Monster” Esparza & Michelle “The Karate Hottie” Waterson. A loss for either one of them would certainly put them in the back of the line for a championship fight. Waterson was on a 3-fight winning streak before her most recent loss against Joanna, the former strawweight queen. Waterson aims to get a dominant victory so she can set herself up for a possible bout against Suarez or Andrade. Let’s also not rule out a rematch vs Thug Rose. A win vs Esparza allows Waterson to believe that maybe she can get a title shot. We can also say the same about Esparza, who was the first ever UFC Strawweight champion after she defeated Rose Namajunas in the Ultimate Fighter 20 Finale in 2014. Esparza then went on to lose to Joanna in her title defense fight and she has been aiming for another title shot since. A win here gets Esparza a step closer to her ultimate goal. With that said, Esparza gets a win here if she doesn’t decide to stand in the middle and exchange with a skilled striker like Waterson. Esparza has phenomenal wrestling which Waterson will have to prepare for if she wants to get a win. This is a classic wrestler vs striker matchup where whichever fighter claims their position will win this fight. Vegas seems to like Esparza and her wrestling because she is (-165). Waterson is coming in as the underdog at (+135).
Prediction: Waterson by Decision
#12 Alexsei Oleinik (7-4) UFC vs Fabricio Werdum (9-3) UFC
- Crazy to think that at age 42 both of these fighters are ranked and still have title aspirations. Alexei has 72 professional fights under his name & Werdum is coming off of a 2 year suspension and is trying to jump himself back to the top of the heavyweight standings. The former HW champion is coming off of a loss in his most recent fight in 2018 vs now #7 Alexander Volkov. If Werdum is able to string along a few victories he throws himself right in the mix for another title shot. I think we can say the same for the Boa Constrictor Alexei Oleinik, the Russian is known for his groundwork and submissions. In his previous fight vs slugger Maurice Green, Alexei was able to get his opponent to the mat and sink in that submission. Very few are able to survive once Alexei gets you to the ground, but it takes two to tango and Werdum is a great dance partner. Werdum has excellent ground work and also has the advantage on the feet. I see Werdum finishing Alexei and closing his title aspirations. Both fighters can’t afford a loss in their final quest to become UFC Champion. Vegas likes Werdum at (-320) and Alexei comes in as a large underdog at (+250). That is great value for Alexei who is always a dangerous opponent.
Prediction: Werdum via TKO Rd. 2
#6 Cowboy Cerrone (24-11) UFC vs Anthony Pettis (9-9) UFC
- I am not one of the people that think this fight makes no sense and shouldn’t happen. I actually love this fight because I love MMA and I respect both of these fighters. So much octagon time between the both of them as well as vicious unpredictable KO’s. Many people start to sleep on a highly ranked fighter who has lost a few fights in a row, I get it. You create an image in your head that these guys are indestructible and can’t lose. Next thing you know, the guy you used to root for is now the guy you are betting against. This is a good assessment of both Pettis and Cerrone. Both fighters have been at the top of their weight divisions for so long, and both have signature wins over elite competition. When I start to lean towards Cerrone, I think of the Superman punch Pettis gave Thompson to KO him in the 2nd Pettis, who is always explosive and dangerous, can be losing a fight and just create fireworks when you least expect it. On the other side of the spectrum, when I lean towards Pettis, I think of the 3 fight win streak Cowboy went on after losing a tough fight to Leon Edwards in England. Dana White & Sean Shelby tried feeding Cowboy to young lions like Mike Perry & Alexander Hernandez a few yrs back & Cowboy let the world know, he’s not going anywhere. This is such a tough fight to pick because of the history both fighters also have. Pettis defeated Cowboy in the 1st round via TKO , but that was 7 years ago in 2013! Many things have changed since then and both fighters have the scars to prove it. Over his last few fights, Pettis has been aggressive and has engaged his opponent with consistent pressure. That style has not faired him well with his record but it has made him a fan favorite. Cowboy is a guy that just can’t stay away from the octagon even after getting TKO’d, the guy is a monster and he will be in the UFC Hall of Fame when all is said and done. After Cerrone performed poorly vs Mcgregor is his last fight, he is on record saying how tough that loss was for him because of how much effort he gave preparing for the bout. Cerrone was TKO’d in 40 seconds and the media destroyed him for weeks after that. Cerrone has many tools and I believe the jab and the counter punches will win him this fight. Cerrone is coming in as a small underdog at (+110) Pettis is the small favorite at (-150)
Prediction: Cowboy Cerrone by Decision
Yorgan De Castro (1-0) UFC vs Greg Hardy (2-2-1) UFC
- Who doesn’t love a slug fest between a couple of heavy-handed heavy weights?! This is exactly what we have here in our next bout. This fight starts off the main card and I would think Greg Hardy has a lot to do with that. The former NFL defensive end had a successful stint in the NFL until his career went in a downward spiral due to domestic allegations. Hardy was on top of the world in the NFL but had a “bad boy” reputation behind his name. Many will buy this ppv simply hoping to see Greg Hardy get KO’d by De Castro. Hardy took a big chance going against #7 ranked HW Alex Volkov but came up short against a very technically sound Volkov. Although Hardy has looked powerful & dominant in previous wins, he is still human and is not yet top 15 material. De Castro earned his UFC contract on Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series where he came in as a large underdog and showed the word never to sleep on him again. De Castro showed he was a very well-rounded fighter with solid take down defense as well as a great counter punch. De Castro is a patient heavy weight that seems to have no fear of what is in front of him. De Castro got his first UFC victory vs heavy handed Justin Tafa in New Zealand. Tafa came in as a slight favorite with lots of praise behind his name but De Castro slept Tafa with an amazing counter right hook and left Tafa on the mat for minutes wondering where he was. Surprising but De Castro comes into this fight as an underdog again at (+175) and I love those odds for a guy who I think will win again. Greg Hardy will try to use his 6 in a half reach advantage to create space against De Castro but I think De Castro is just the better, more well rounded fighter who simply has more tools in his arsenal to expose Greg Hardy. Hardy comes into this fight as a (-210) favorite in Las Vegas, he will have a large size (7 inches) and reach advantage (6 ½ inch) but that will not be enough to put away a patient & powerful De Castro.
Prediction: Yorgan De Castro by Decision
Jeremy Stephens (15-16) UFC vs Calvin Kattar (4-2) UFC
- A fan favorite type of fight follows the big boys at UFC 249. Two excellent featherweight strikers jump into the cage and look to stay relevant in the featherweight rankings. If you were to ask me who feels the pressure to win most, I would say Jeremy Stephens. Stephens was a hot name in the division in 2017/2018 after winning 3 in a row against some tough competition like Korean Super Boy as well as Josh Emmett & Gilbert Melendez. That win streak earned him a shot vs the king of Brazil Jose Aldo where Jeremy was defeated in the first round due to a liver shot he could not recover from. Stephens has lost 3 in a row and is now fighting to stay relevant in the division. Stephens isn’t getting any younger and at age 33, the time is now for him to string along a few wins & hope for the best. A matchup against Kattar isn’t a terrible match up for Stephens but it is definitely dangerous. Kattar has excellent boxing and does not run away from a fist fight and that is exactly what Stephens is hoping for. Stephens is at his best when all hell breaks loose and hands are flying everywhere. I think of his fight against Bermudez or Yair Rodriguez when I think of the best versions of Jeremy Stephens and I think Kattar will bring out the best in Stephens. This fight has potential to be FOTN but I am leaning with Kattar and his boxing. Kattar will have a 1 inch reach advantage on Stephens, and that is enough of an advantage for Kattar to establish his timing and distance in a 3 round war. Kattar is looking to get back in the win column after losing a tough decision to Zabit Magomedsharipov in November of 2019. Vegas has Kattar as the favorite at (-260) and Stephens is a rather large underdog at (+210). There is great value there for Stephens because I do believe this fight can go his way if he is able to connect with one of his powerful hands. VERY hard fight to pick but I am going with Kattar.
Prediction: Calvin Kattar by Decision
Francis Ngannou (9-2) UFC vs Jairzinho Rozenstruik (4-0) UFC
- This fight was slated to be the main event at UFC Columbus back in March, but the corona virus pandemic threw all sports off the track. Crazy to think that this is not a co-main event because it would be a main event on any other fight night! Jairzinho is riding this wave of recent success with an undefeated UFC record but don’t let that fool you. Rozenstruik was seconds away from being handed his first loss but an overhand right from Hell literally exploded Overeem’s lip and the fight was stopped. The fight wasn’t close and Overeem fought a very smart and technical fight and exposed Rozenstruik quite a bit especially on the ground. Wouldn’t it be a bummer if Ngannou decides to try and grapple/wrestle with Rozenstruik for 3 straight rounds? Anything can happen in the heavyweight division with one swing so obviously Rozenstruik brings fear at all times. All fighters have weaknesses and Ngannou certainly has some as well. When Miocic defended the HW belt vs Ngannou he took Ngannou to the ground and simply out worked him and gassed him out on the mat. Ngannou is known for his devastating knockouts and powerful hands, very similar to Rozenstruik but Ngannou looks to be much quicker and agile than his opponent. Ngannou has great boxing and will try to use his 5 inch reach advantage to stay away from danger. Ngannou wants another title shot, & he will have to outclass Rozenstruik wherever the fight goes if he wants to get there. Vegas has Ngannou as the favorite right now sitting at (-220) and Rozenstruik as the underdog at (+230).
Prediction: Ngannou via TKO Rd. 2
©Henry Cejudo (9-2) UFC vs Dominick Cruz (5-1) UFC
- We get back to back championship fights to close out UFC 249! King of cringe Henry Cejudo gets back in the octagon to defend his bantamweight belt but has to face arguably the best bantamweight of all time in Cruz. When I think of Cruz, I think of his trilogy with Uriah Faber as well as his victory over TJ Dillashaw. Cruz has trained his mind to think there is no such thing as “ring rust”. Cruz has had a career hampered by injury and has not been able to stay healthy for long periods of time. Every fighter has their own journey to the top, for Cruz it has been a rough road, a longer road but he has still overcome adversity and found a way to win. Cruz has taken the “survive & advance mentality”, and it has led him again to another title shot. Cejudo calls himself the best combat athlete of all time, with quite the resume with victories over Mighty Mouse, Dillashaw & most recently Marlon Moraes. That is a hell of a win streak to have but Cejudo is missing a few more names to really staple the “greatest combat athlete ever” behind his name. Cruz is another step forward towards that ultimate goal. Easier said than done folks. I remember Dillashaw having similar aspirations when he was able to capture UFC gold, he would decimate fierce competition and looked quite unstoppable. All changed when he finally met with Cruz where they both beat the hell out of each other for 5 rounds. Cruz ended up taking his belt back after a 4 yr layoff. I see something similar happening again simply because I don’t think you can properly prepare for Cruz because of how awkward & unpredictable his fight style is. Cejudo not having training partners to really copy Cruz’s style puts him at a disadvantage. If we were living in a normal world right now maybe I would think differently, but by not being able to call in training partners and prepare the right way for a guy that needs the best type of prep is a stretch. I don’t want to sound like I am beating down Cejudo because he does have tremendous talent and is an Olympic medal winner. Cejudo has the speed and power to drop Cruz but Cejudo likes to engage first in his fights and be the aggressor, which is exactly what Cruz wants you to do. We have seen some elite fighters Like Aljamain Sterling & Stipe Miocic come out publicly & say they don’t want to fight because they can’t get in a gym and training sites are closed due to the pandemic. It takes yrs for ranked UFC fighters to get to where they are, taking a fight you can’t properly train for is just dangerous and it can take a yr to get back to where they were. Cejudo is in his prime and a loss here does not guarantee an automatic rematch. A lot is on the line for both fighters, but I believe Cruz will create issues for Cejudo in the early rounds which will leave him scrambling for answers. Cruz comes in as an underdog at (+185) and Cejudo is the favorite at (-230). Great value here for Cruz who should never be that big of an underdog when fighting in the bantamweight division.
Prediction: Cruz by Decision (AND NEW!)
Tony Ferguson (15-1) UFC vs Justin Gaethje (4-2) UFC
- IT’S TIME!! The main event, FERGUSON & GAETHJE. One will become the interim light weight champion of the world and line themselves up for an undisputed title shot against Khabib Nurmagomedov. The lightweight division some would argue is the most competitive and fierce division in all of the UFC right now. You have guys like McGregor, Diaz, Oliveira, Poirier, Hooker, Holloway all in line for a shot to face Khabib. Every fighter is elite and all of them are behind Gaethje and Ferguson at this moment. Gaethje took this fight on somewhat of a short notice because it has had to be rescheduled from its original date on May 9th. Gaethje has had the time now to get himself in shape for a machine like Ferguson, but he still has not had the proper training for a guy like Ferguson, a similar situation as Cejudo. Gaethje will rely on his pressure & powerful hands to win this fight. The only problem with that formula is Ferguson welcomes pressure with open arms and laughs at the sight of blood whether it’s coming from his face or Gaethje’s. Ferguson has this mentality where he will welcome pain and let you know he can withstand more pain than you. Nate Diaz has a similar approach, but Ferguson is much more elusive and less predictable. Gaethje vs Ferguson could very well be ‘Fight of the Year’ because both fighters will bite down on their mouthpiece and go for the kill. Whoever connects with the first clean shot will most likely win this fight and I definitely don’t think this fight goes past the third round. Ferguson always brings up the word “destiny” and how he is destined to be the undisputed LW champion, but this is Ferguson’s decision to fight Gaethje and not wait for Khabib. Ferguson made the decision to put himself in danger and risk it all. People tend to say everything happens for a reason, but decisions are met with actions and sometimes consequences. We will find out Saturday night if Ferguson made the right decision. Expect to see elbows, haymakers, Superman punches, flying knees and maybe some break dancing all within the first 10 minutes of the fight.
Prediction: Ferguson via TKO Rd. 2 (AND NEW!)