Kieran Cobley picks out three selections for UFC 249, including an early finish when Francis Ngannou and Jairzinho Rozenstruik go to war.
UFC 249 is set to be a massive card for the UFC, with the event marking the promotions return after several cancelled cards due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Tony Ferguson will take on late-notice replacement Justin Gaethje in the main event of the evening, with the interim lightweight title and a fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov in the future on the line.
In the co-main event slot, Henry Cejudo attempts to defend his bantamweight title at the first time of asking when he takes on Dominick Cruz, with the two-time former champion returning to the octagon for the first time in four years.
Before those two big fights, a stacked undercard includes Francis Ngannou v Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Anthony Pettis v Donald Cerrone , and Calvin Kattar vs Jeremy Stephens.
UFC 249: Fight times, TV channel and cost
- Prelim fights: Around 11pm BST on Saturday, May 9
- Main card: Around 3am BST, Sunday, May 10
- Ferguson v Gaethje: Around 5am BST
- TV Channel: BT Sport 1, coverage starting at 1am
- Streaming: Available to subscribers via the BT Sport website or the app.
- Where: VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville behind closed doors
- Odds: Click here for Sky Bet prices
Scroll further for full fight card
Pick one: Cejudo vs Cruz to go over 3.5 rounds
While Cejudo has won three of his last five fights by KO/TKO, and all of those finish wins have come inside three rounds, the chances of landing a KO shot on Cruz early on seem slim.
Cruz is notoriously difficult to hit, with commentators often making reference to his unique style of movement. The only fighter who was able to crack the riddle of Cruz’s movement was Cody Garbrandt, where 'No Love' famously beat Cruz at his own game.
That fight also showed just how durable Cruz is. Despite absorbing 47 significant strikes to head, some of which landed with pinpoint accuracy, and surviving two knockdowns, he managed to see things through and send it to the scorecards.
Expect Cejudo to come out fast early on and look to score an early KO, while Cruz should use his octagon IQ and movement to make sure the fight goes well into the championship rounds.
Questions will be asked if Cruz still has that same range of movement after numerous knee injuries that have seen him laid off for a significant amount of time, but what he might now lack in movement, he more than makes up for elsewhere.
Pick two: Ngannou vs Rozenstruik – Either fighter to win in round one
This is a heavyweight clash that fans have been wanting since Rozenstruik introduced himself to the division last year with four KO wins, and both men have a habit of finishing fights early, with each holding seven first-round KOs.
Ngannou’s ability to set up his power strikes is well known after his uppercut KO win over Alistair Overeem, but he is now up against a fighter with similar ability.
Rozenstruik’s kickboxing pedigree is unrivalled in the heavyweight division, and with a nine-second KO over Allan Crowder and a 29-second KO over former champion Andrei Arlovski, it’s easy to see why.
There have been instances in the past where Ngannou has simply been outwrestled to score a win, but with a reputation for devastating KOs, I can’t see 'Bigi Boy' opting for that strategy.
Don’t expect this one to reach the second round.
Pick three: Ferguson to win via KO or submission
Ferguson puts everything on the line going into Saturday’s main event, knowing that if Gaethje beats him, not only will he miss out on holding the interim lightweight title, his long awaited fight with champion Nurmagomedov will be pushed back yet again.
Gaethje will be a tough opponent to beat; he a fearless approach to fighting, and has shown in multiple fights he will take a shot to land one of his own, but that is also his ultimate weakness.
Ferguson will strike any target available to him, using his unique movement to put him into range and set up takedowns, in order to utilise his black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
While Gaethje does have a wrestling pedigree - he was a division one NCAA wrestler in university - he hasn’t faced anyone with Ferguson’s ability, and if 'El Cucuy' can survive the early onslaught and get a takedown in the championship rounds, he will utilise his brutal elbows and his arsenal of submissions to get the win.
Gaethje should be aggressive early on, like in his last three fights which he has won by first-round KO, but Ferguson has the fight IQ and durability to withstand it, making this fight an all out war which he should win.
Fight Card & Sky Bet Odds
- Tony Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje
- Henry Cejudo vs Dominick Cruz
- Francis Ngannou vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik
- Jeremy Stephens vs. Calvin Kattar
- Greg Hardy vs. Yorgan De Castro
- Anthony Pettis vs. Donald Cerrone
- Aleksei Oleinik vs. Fabricio Werdum
- Carla Esparza vs. Michelle Waterson
- Vicente Luque vs. Niko Price
- Bryce Mitchell vs. Charles Rosa
- Ryan Spann vs. Sam Alvey
We are committed in our support of responsible gambling. Recommended bets are advised to over-18s and we strongly encourage readers to wager only what they can afford to lose.