Justin Gaethje produced the best performance of his profession to end up Tony Ferguson and win the UFC interim light-weight title at UFC 249.
The event was held behind closed doors in Jacksonville, Florida, after the international coronavirus pandemic forced a number of changes to the card and place.
Undisputed champion Khabib Nurmagomedov was originally set to face Ferguson on 18 April in Brooklyn, but the coronavirus break out required the event to be moved, and the UFC’s attempt to hold the show on tribal land in Lemoore, California, was stopped after broadcast partner ESPN and parent company Disney stepped in.
Ultimately, it was moved to the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, where it became the first major US sporting occasion to take location considering that March.
More than 77,000 people have actually now died with Covid-19 in the United States and there are 1.2 million validated cases – both figures the greatest worldwide.
Brazilian middleweight Jacare Souza and his two cornermen evaluated positive for coronavirus on the eve of the event and were withdrawn.
On the night there were rigorous health and safety protocols in location. The referees, commentators and event personnel used face masks and just one cornerman per fighter was permitted into the cage in between rounds.
Without the crowd, fighters said they could hear the analysts.
Heavyweight Greg Hardy stated he had the ability to take the guidance of commentator Daniel Cormier as he beat Yorgan de Castro.
” Thank God for not having the crowd,” Hardy stated in his post-fight interview. “Shout out to DC. I heard him tell me to inspect him, so I started trying to examine him. Game changer.”
Carla Esparza, who beat Michelle Waterson, said she heard Cormier’s criticism of her and changed her strategy throughout the battle.
Fans seeing in the house commented on how loud and “scary” the punches sounded in an empty arena.
‘ I’ll await the genuine one’ – Gaethje after success
While the night saw a host of thrilling battles, all eyes were on the centerpiece between Americans Gaethje and Ferguson, with the winner set to proceed to Nurmagomedov later on this year.
Gaethje, 31, actioned in to face Ferguson at the start of April, and took his chance with a calm, made up display screen to win the belt and set himself up for a chance at the Russian champion.
Gaethje began magnificently and settled into his work in the first 2 rounds, however was dropped by a big Ferguson uppercut in the last seconds of round two.
Undeterred, Gaethje continued to get in touch with effective shots as Ferguson maintained his forward pressure and put the previous interim champ on wobbly legs with a big punch early in round four.
By that point, Gaethje’s solid, precise punches had actually begun to take their toll on a bloodied and bruised Ferguson, and when a stiff jab forced Ferguson in reverse, midway through the fifth and last round, referee Herb Dean stepped in to end the contest.
It saw Gaethje awarded the interim lightweight belt, however he waved it away, saying he’s waiting for the “real thing”, as he set out his dream to take on Nurmagomedov in a title unification bout in his next getaway.
” Khabib is the very best on the planet,” he stated.
” I’ve been working given that I was four for challenges like this, and I’m delighted to represent the United States of America versus Dagestan (Khabib’s home area), or Russia’s best. He’s 28 -0, and there’s no other obstacle I want today. I wish to battle him.”
Cejudo keeps his belt, then retires
The night’s co-main event saw 2008 Olympic wrestling gold medallist Henry Cejudo successfully defend his UFC bantamweight title against previous champion Dominick Cruz, then make a surprise announcement as he confirmed his retirement from the sport.
The 33- year-old transitioned to blended martial arts in2013 His abilities ultimately saw him make it to the UFC, where he dethroned all-time great Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson to win the UFC flyweight title.
Cejudo then went up to 135 pounds and originated from behind to defeat Marlon Moraes to record the bantamweight title and end up being a UFC ‘champ champ’, however ultimately gave up the flyweight belt to focus on life at his brand-new weight class.
His very first title defence came versus previous two-time champion Cruz, who was returning from a three-and-a-half-year lay-off in a quote to reclaim the title.
It was Cejudo whose abilities dominated on the night as he countered Cruz’s unorthodox footwork with powerful leg kicks and, after an unexpected clash of heads required the battle into a quick time out, he connected with a substantial knee that dropped Cruz to the mat.
With the previous champ looking to scramble back to his feet, Cejudo swarmed his downed challenger and landed 11 unanswered shots to require referee Keith Petersen to step in and wave off the battle with simply two seconds staying in the round.
After his success, Cejudo stated: “I’m retiring tonight. I’m 33 years old, I enjoy with my career. Uncle Dana (White, UFC president), I wish to say thank you for whatever, you’re the guy. Everyone here, thank you a lot.”
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