UFC 249: Ferguson and Gaethje Battle Under Unique Circumstances

Tony Ferguson UFC
Credit: Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.com

After an unreal last two months, the UFC returns to action on Saturday with a battle between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje for the interim lightweight title at UFC 249.

The last time the UFC held a large numbered event was on March 7 earlier this year.  In the two short months since then, life around the world has been drastically altered with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting people across the globe.  But after several changes and cancellations across their calendar, the UFC will return to action with a lightweight clash between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje for the interim lightweight championship on Saturday.

Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson has continued to defy conventional wisdom amidst the global pandemic.  That should surprise no one.  If there is one thing that has been made clear about Ferguson during his twelve fight win-streak, it is that he is the type of guy to go outside of the norm when it comes to his preparation.  That held true several weeks ago when he made weight on April 17 despite the fact that his long anticipated battle with Khabib Nurmagomedov would not be happening (for the fifth time) the next day.  The fact that he would have to make the cut again just weeks later seemed irrelevant.  But that is what has come to be expected from a man who came back from a devastating knee injury in just several months against all medical logic to take a fight when he was already the unanimous number contender in the stacked lightweight division.

Ferguson’s style, dominance, and unique approach to the fight game has had him on the cusp of MMA superstardom for several years now.  Despite the formidable competition still left for him at 155 pounds, many feel that Khabib Nurmagomedov is the only one that stands in the way between himself and potentially becoming a cross-over star.  This makes Saturday’s battle all the more precarious for Ferguson, who stepped up to compete amidst the global situation to take on one of the most dangerous fighters in the division rather than wait for Nurmagomedov.

On the other side of the cage, “The Highlight” Justin Gaethje has a huge opportunity to flip the lightweight division upside down.  When March began, the consensus thought was that Gaethje would be on the outside looking in as he waited for Nurmagomedov and Ferguson to handle their business.  Instead, he has an opportunity to possibly end the runs of both men and skyrocket up the pound-for-pound rankings.  A number of possibilities would open up ranging from rematches with either man or even a clash with pay-per-view lightening rod Conor McGregor.

Considering Gaethje’s stoppage losses to Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier in recent years, to call him the best lightweight in the world may seem like a stretch.  But one must take into account the drastic adjustments to his style in the past year.  Those adjustments have led to impressive results with three first round knockout victories.  Previously an electrifying brawler, Gaethje has shown a measured pace where he patiently looks for openings to explode with his one-shot stopping power.  Should he accomplish the incredible feat of overcoming both Ferguson and Nurmagomedov, it would be hard to deny his place amongst the best of the best at 155 pounds.

“El Cucuy” has shown incredible durability throughout his career, but it has been a long time since he faced an opponent with the destructive capabilities at the level of Gaethje.  While Ferguson’s unorthodox attack on the feet is one of his best weapons, he would be better served with a more cautious approach.  Ferguson should look to keep the fight at mid-range on the feet where he can get in-and-out with strikes.  Furthermore, he should look to counter Gaethje and get the fight to the ground where he can work his submission game and the power of “The Highlight” is neutralized.

For as prolific as Ferguson has been in rallying back from trouble, Gaethje is arguably the only lightweight on par with him in terms of withstanding damage.  Gaethje should maintain a disciplined attack and look to press forward at a measured pace.  For all his success, Ferguson has found himself in trouble in several of his past fights by leaving openings and that is exactly what Gaethje should exploit.  He has proven himself in five round battles before and figures to be able to outlast Ferguson over 25 minutes if he can avoid getting into wild exchanges on the feet.

Despite Dana White’s hesitation at trying to book Ferguson against Nurmagomedov for an unbelievable sixth time, the match-up would be impossible to deny should “El Cucuy” win interim gold on Saturday.  Should Gaethje prevail, it would set up another interesting clash for the lightweight title as many believe he is the worst stylistic match-up for the undefeated Nurmagomedov.  Though the global situation will determine when the fight takes place, the optimistic hope is that the UFC and both sides involved will be able to have the fight in the fall.