UFC 249 Aftermath: Three Takeaways

Justin Gaethje UFC
Justin Gaethje Credit: UFC

The UFC made its glorious return Saturday night for UFC 249. Here are three takeaways from the stacked PPV card.

After two months away due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the UFC made a huge return Saturday night. With all of the eyes in the sports world on them, the UFC put on a phenomenal card headlined by two title fights and a slew of other bouts that could’ve easily headlined in their own right. The main event saw Justin Gaethje pick up the UFC’s interim lightweight championship in a dominant win over Tony Ferguson, and the co-main saw Henry Cejudo retain his bantamweight title following a controversial stoppage win over former champion Dominick Cruz.

There were other big wins on the fun night of fights as well, as Francis Ngannou picked up a 20-second knockout victory over the previously undefeated Jarzinho Rozenstruik. Other big winners on the card included the likes of Calvin Kattar, Anthony Pettis, Bryce Mitchell, and Vincente Luque.

Those were all nice storylines and victories, but let’s take a look at the three biggest takeaways coming out of UFC 249.

Justin Gaethje’s performance was one of the most impressive in a long time.

Justin Gaethje headed into UFC 249 as a slight underdog, and it’s easy to see why. Gaethje wasn’t even supposed to be there. He only found himself in the fight against Ferguson after champion Khabib Nurmagomedov pulled out due travel sanctions that left him unable to make it to the United States for the bout.

Gaethje normally doesn’t take short-notice bouts, but for a shot at the interim belt and a future shot against Khabib, he couldn’t pass the fight against Ferguson up. Originally, Gaethje took the fight against Ferguson with only a few weeks to prepare, however, due to the event being postponed, he was able to get in a longer camp than expected.

However, fighting Tony Ferguson is no easy task. Ferguson was on a 12-fight winning streak heading into UFC 249. Wins over Rafael Dos Anjos, Anthony Pettis, Donald Cerrone, and others had many labeling Ferguson as lightweight’s uncrowned king. Ferguson had a decent claim to the title as well, as he defeated Kevin Lee to become the UFC interim lightweight champion at UFC 216. He would go on to be stripped of his title due to injury before a scheduled fight against Khabib at UFC 223. Tony to many was the UFC’s lightweight champion, and his dominance heading into UFC 249 was unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

Justin Gaethje then saw that dominance and did to Tony Ferguson what Tony Ferguson does to everyone else. Gaethje put a one-sided beating on Ferguson, rocking him multiple times over the course of the five-round contest. Ferguson’s sole highlight was a knockdown at the very end of round two, however, Gaethje just stood up and smiled at Ferguson and went back to his corner. Then headed back out in round three to put more of a beating on Ferguson. Gaethje finished the fight near the end of the fifth round, snapping Ferguson’s head back with a jab and putting him on wobbly legs. The fight was stopped before Ferguson could take any more punishment. According to the scorecards, if the fight wasn’t finished Gaethje would’ve won by scores of 50-44, 49-45, and 49-44.

Gaethje’s performance Saturday night has to be one of the most impressive performances in a title fight in recent memory. Coming in short-notice, taking on an opponent with a 12-fight winning streak, and he absolutely bodied him. Gaethje made such a good account of himself that there is now significant hype for a fight against champion Khabib. That, when all the talk heading in was about Ferguson vs. Khabib coming afterward. That fight against Khabib will likely be one of the biggest of 2020 when it rolls around.

But regardless of what happens against Khabib, Justin Gaethje already did the impossible in dominating the division’s boogeyman in Tony Ferguson. Cementing himself in history as a lightweight champion, regardless of what happens this fall.

If Henry Cejudo is done, he goes down as one of the greatest of all-time.

It’s easy to forget, but not even four years ago Henry Cejudo was being looked at as just another Demetrious Johnson victim. Cejudo headed into that DJ fight with surprisingly little UFC experience, having only four fights in the promotion before unexpectedly getting a title shot. Cejudo wound up finished by Johnson in the first round, and then lost his next bout to Joseph Benavidez as well. Cejudo then underwent a change in his style, adopting a more karate-based striking style and finding massive success.

The Olympic gold medalist would go on to knock out former title challenger Wilson Reis and dominate Sergio Pettis in his next two bouts. Cejudo would earn a second title-shot against Johnson, and what would ensue was one of the greatest flyweight fights in UFC history. After five hard-fought rounds, Henry Cejudo had dethroned Demetrious Johnson, ripping the title away in a close split-decision. The win had ended Johnson’s historic win streak, where he defended the UFC flyweight title 11 times.

Current bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw was up next for Cejudo, coming down in weight to earn a second title and supposedly “kill the division.” The general consensus was that if Dillashaw won, the flyweight division would be scrapped. The division was on death’s door for a while due to a lack of fan interest, and TJ was looking to get rid of it entirely. Instead, Cejudo knocked out Dillashaw inside of a round and saved the division. Next Cejudo would move up in weight to fight for the bantamweight title, which was now vacant after Dillashaw was stripped due to testing positive for EPO.

Cejudo was matched up with top contender Marlon Moraes for the vacant championship. He would then make history as only the fourth fighter in UFC history to hold two titles at the same time, following a tremendous comeback against Moraes. Following that feat, he took some time off due to an injury and was matched up against former featherweight champion Jose Aldo at UFC 249. However, after Aldo pulled out, he was matched up with former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. Cejudo then finished Cruz inside of two rounds, knocking him down with a knee, and declaring his retirement post-fight on the mic.

If Henry Cejudo is truly done, he has to go down on the shortlist for greatest fighters of all time. Ending on a streak of Demetrious Johnson, TJ Dillashaw, Marlon Moraes, and Dominick Cruz is arguably the best four-fight streak we’ve ever seen in MMA. Former flyweight champion, former bantamweight champion, former Olympian, Henry Cejudo did it all folks.

Tony Ferguson’s steak was unlike anything we’ve seen.

Tony Ferguson’s 12 fight winning streak sadly came to a close Saturday night with a loss to Justin Gaethje in the main-event. Ferguson had been unbeaten since 2012, where he last lost to Michael Johnson. Ferguson then went on a winning-steak quite unlike anything we’ve ever seen in MMA, and one we likely won’t see for a long time. Ferguson would follow up wins over Mike Rio, Katsunori Kikuno, Danny Castillo, Abel Truilljo, and Gleison Tibau following the loss to Johnson. The win over Tibau elevated him into the upper echelon of lightweight, and his next fight would be against former Strikeforce lightweight champion Josh Thomson.

In what would be a showcase of things to come, Ferguson would dominate Thomson, slicing him up with elbows and earning a dominant decision victory. Ferguson would follow up the win over Thomson with a bloody submission victory over Edson Barboza; that win put him into title contention and into the UFC’s top five. A place he would stay for the next five years. He would quickly follow up with a win over a game replacement in Lando Vannata after one of his many scheduled fights with Khabib Nurmagomedov would fall through. Ferguson was then matched up with former lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos in the biggest fight of his career up to that point.

Ferguson next outlasted the cardio machine Dos Anjos in Mexico City. The decision win put Ferguson into the number one contenders spot, however due to Conor McGregor’s absence in the division despite being champion, Ferguson wouldn’t get a shot at the undisputed title. Instead, Ferguson was matched up with rising prospect Kevin Lee for the lightweight interim title at UFC 216. Ferguson’s career highlight would come that night, defeating Lee via submission in the third to earn the gold.

Ferguson would sadly lose his championship due to injury, after tearing everything in his leg following tripping over a cable cord while doing media the week before UFC 223. Despite many thinking Ferguson would need more time off due to the tears in his leg, he came back in about six months. Facing former champion Anthony Pettis on the undercard of UFC 229, he finished the former champion via TKO. Ferguson’s final win in his 12-fight run would come as another TKO over top contender Donald Cerrone, setting up another interim title shot at UFC 249.

Many are sad for Ferguson, but let’s not pretend the man is dead just yet. His streak was unlike anything we’ve ever seen before (while Khabib remains undefeated, his wins are at least far less grisly), and there’s no shame in losing to a man like Justin Gaethje. If there’s any fighter that could come back after a loss like that, it’s El Cucuy.