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Grading the Card: UFC 249

Well kids, UFC 249 is finally upon us, and surprise surprise, the cream of the crop on the marquee between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson has… well, you can probably guess what’s happened. Again. UFC 249 was originally slated to take place on April 18th in Brooklyn, NY, before the world came tumbling down around us, proving once again that the MMA gods will exercise every option to rob us of Khabib and Tony fighting. This time, they invoked the “global pandemic” trap card to put us in yet another position that sees the potential for what is, at this point, the most sought after fight in UFC history in jeopardy.

Tony Ferguson will meet Justin Gaethje in the main event of one of the biggest and deepest cards the promotion has ever put on. Prior to Ferguson-Gaethje sits 11 fights that at minimum seven of which could honestly see fireworks in ways unimaginable. Given that this is the first UFC event in nearly two months, and it’s stacked to the brim with insane fights after one another, this edition of Grading the Card will feature a quick analysis of EVERY fight taking place at UFC 249. I, like so many of you fellow MMA diehards, am dying to see some live fights so let’s hand out some grades for UFC 249.

Main Event: Tony Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje

A post shared by @TonyFergusonxt (@tonyfergusonxt) on Apr 27, 2020 at 10:17pm PDT

In literally every other scenario, it might be impossible to give Ferguson-Gaethje a grade that isn’t A+, or A at the very minimum. But most of you are aware of how I analyze scenarios and read into some of these happenings far too deeply, as opposed to just enjoying the fight for what it is. And perhaps to no surprise, I’m doing exactly that here. Ferguson-Gaethje is an all-action, all-violence bloodbath just waiting to happen. Quite possibly the best lightweights on planet Earth without the surname Nurmagomedov, the only was this one won’t deliver is if it ends quickly. My only problem with this fight? Yep, you know where I’m going with this. It’s not Khabib vs. Tony. It’s not the apex of high level MMA that we all desperately need to see. And for that reason, yes- THAT reason, it gets a slight dock. But don’t be fooled, this is an insane fight, and the stock of the winner will likely shoot up to levels rivaling that of Nurmagomedov and maybe, optimistically, Conor McGregor as well.

Grade: A-

Co-Main Event: Henry Cejudo vs. Dominick Cruz

A post shared by ufc (@ufc) on May 6, 2020 at 8:18am PDT

I might be crazy, and I may be alone here, but I love this fight and I’m not against the UFC making it. Now, the issue that lives within this fight is the obvious absence by Dominick Cruz that has lasted nearly four years, only for him to be awarded with a title shot on the heels of a fight he lost. Fair point, and I won’t argue with someone who makes that argument. But I’ll proudly say that this fight makes far more sense than the obstreperousness fight that was originally slated to happen that featured Cejudo and Jose Aldo, who lost his only bantamweight fight to a fighter Cejudo dominated. So, maybe it’s just relief that someone more deserving than Aldo is getting the shot is relieving, although in fairness, anyone in the bantamweight top 10 would be more appropriate to earn a title shot than Aldo. For my money, this is a highly competitive fight, and maybe this is because we’ve seen Cruz return from injury twice prior and look dominant in his return, thereby creating a sense of bewilderment and intrigue around this fight that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. This fight does seem competitive and stylistically interesting to me, though. Perhaps not the war that Ferguson-Gaethje could be, but a technical masterclass should be incoming between the bantamweight titlists.

Grade: A

Francis Ngannou vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik

A post shared by ufc (@ufc) on May 7, 2020 at 1:02pm PDT

This fight will go one of three ways. The first way, and most probable outcome: one of these monsters puts the other out in under a round. The second way, my favorite outcome: both are shown to have maybe the best chins in MMA history to withstand shots from the other and this ends up being a classic brawl between two heavyweight gladiators. And the third way, and oh how it pangs me to speak the potential of this occurring into existence: it’s Ngannou-Lewis, deja vu. Now, I personally believe the third option is unlikely, mainly because I think the second that one of these two lands cleanly, it’s over. This should, for all intents and purposes, present us at the end of the night with either a memorable finish or a classic fight that sees the winner earning their rightful shot at the heavyweight champion, whether it be Stipe Miocic or Daniel Cormier whenever, if ever, they decide to settle their trilogy.

Grade: A

Jeremy Stephens vs. Calvin Kattar

A post shared by ufc (@ufc) on May 7, 2020 at 8:03am PDT

As my co-host Mr. Jonathan says, this is truly the sleeper fight on the card. This one could be absolutely nuts. This is essentially Ferguson-Gaethje without the cloud of perhaps losing a bigger fight hanging above it. Stephens may be the hardest hitter sub-155 in the UFC, while Kattar may be the most technical boxer in the division, on-par with Max Holloway. Very likely that this one ends in knockout, but at the very least, we’re getting something fun from this one. That’s a virtual guarantee.

Grade: A+

Greg Hardy vs. Yorgan De Castro

A post shared by Greg “The Prince Of War” Hardy (@greghardyjr) on Apr 30, 2020 at 6:31am PDT

Interesting fight to have open up the main card, but I suppose it’s understandable given the dynamics of Hardy being a known sports figure in the United States, even if it is in controversial fashion, and this being the only major sporting event occurring over the course of the weekend. De Castro is also coming off one of the prettiest knockouts in his UFC debut, when he flattened Justin Tafa while drifting on his back foot. The potential for fireworks in this one, and you’ll continue to see a theme here, is outrageously high. Now, should it have been on the main card? Ehh, that remains to be seen. But I can’t give all A’s. That’ll bias the curve too much.

Grade: B+


Donald Cerrone vs. Anthony Pettis

A post shared by Donald Cerrone (@cowboycerrone) on Apr 25, 2020 at 1:27pm PDT

Let me just go on record as saying if the UFC was holding events, as they are, in the strangest situation yet amidst a pandemic, in an empty arena, as the only sport on television… and Donald Cerrone WASN’T on at least one of these cards, that would have been bizarre. This almost feels tailor made for Cowboy, doesn’t it? Fight anyone, anywhere, anytime, and this fight with Pettis represents a rematch of a fight that should provide the same fireworks it did previously. Both guys desperately need a win, and we all know that they’re more than capable of doing whatever it takes to achieve that goal.

Grade: A-

Aleksei Oleinik vs. Fabricio Werdum

A post shared by Fabricio Werdum 🇧🇷 (@werdum) on Feb 24, 2020 at 8:13pm PST

Grappling nerds will absolutely froth at the thought of this one hitting the mat. I’m hoping for Polaris level grappling here. If this ends by knockout, I’ll be disappointed. Perhaps the two greatest heavyweight grapplers of all-time, the least we can hope for is Werdum throwing up a guillotine only to see Oleinik counter with an Ezekiel choke of his own. I might scream like a child if we actually see the grappling exchanges I’m hoping for in this fight.

Grade: B

Carla Esparza vs. Michelle Waterson

A post shared by Michelle Waterson (@karatehottiemma) on Feb 8, 2020 at 6:36pm PST

The last former champion to cover on this card fights three fights down from the main card opener, which is just insane to me but also speaks to the depth of the card. It also helps that this is as competitive a fight there is at women’s strawweight, my favorite division, right now. Esparza enters on a two fight winning streak looking to regain that championship form she once had, while Waterson is entering off of a loss to Joanna Jedrzejczyk in a fight she entered in top form. Both ladies are also former Invicta FC champions, Esparza at strawweight and Waterson at atomweight. I remember once mentioning that this should’ve been the inaugural UFC women’s atomweight championship. I still stand by that, and I still stand by remarking at the depth of this card by referencing this fight as a prelim.

Grade: A

Uriah Hall vs. Jacare Souza

A post shared by Uriah Hall (@uriahhall) on May 1, 2020 at 1:55pm PDT

Honestly, look me in the eye and tell me this couldn’t be a fight night co-main event, at minimum. Two middleweight contenders in position to gain some traction in a division that has severe disparity at the top, with the fight including a legend in Jacare Souza against a revitalized Uriah Hall. 8:00 ET, ESPN, this is your opening televised bout. Wowza, you better order those wings early on Saturday night.

Grade: B+

Vicente Luque vs. Niko Price

A post shared by Niko “The Hybrid” Price •UFC• (@hybridufc) on May 2, 2020 at 7:40pm PDT

A rematch of a fight that originally took place in October 2017 that Luque won by submission and handing Price his first professional loss in the process, it’s hard to say that this rematch won’t be better, at least on paper. Both men have improved greatly since then, with Luque only losing to Stephen Thompson and Price developing new methods of finishing techniques during what seems like every fight. This one is vehemently fascinating. I would call this my ultimate sleeper of the card, because it has war written all over it.

Grade: A

Bryce Mitchell vs. Charles Rosa

A post shared by Bryce Mitchell (@thugnasty_ufc) on Dec 7, 2019 at 5:37pm PST

The featherweight equivalent to Oleinik-Werdum, this one pits the world’s favorite redneck submission ace Bryce Mitchell against Boston black belt Charles Rosa. I’m somewhat joking when I say I want to see Polaris-level grappling in these bouts, but simultaneously, I’m not. I love fights like this, and if Bryce Mitchell somehow gets another twister, as unlikely as it is, well then The Korean Zombie would be the only logical next step, right? Battle of the twister specialists. It’ll be like one of those old school UFC cards with crazy titles, and I’d be all there for it.

Grade: A

Ryan Spann vs. Sam Alvey

A post shared by Ryan Spann (@superman_spann) on Nov 1, 2019 at 1:51pm PDT

Ahh, we almost had the perfect game, everyone. We just got Gallaraga’d. Almost had an entire fight card where every fight was compelling and competitive. This one is not. This should be an absolute washout for Ryan Spann, who is vastly more skilled and has a world’s level of more potential than Sam Alvey. If this doesn’t end in the first round, that’ll be a shame. This one will hurt the average a bit, but honestly, given the rest of the card, I don’t see how it should matter too much.

Grade: C-

Report Card

Quality points don’t matter here, I’m not even going to dignify the idea that a card with 8 A’s in 13 fights doesn’t deserve an A, or that I should do any math to prove it. This card gets an A. Even if the prelims weren’t insane, the main card would still earn an A, or a high B at minimum. UFC 249 is loaded. Let’s enjoy some semblance of normal life on Saturday night.■

Follow Johann on Twitter: @thejohanncastro Follow The Johann Castro MMA Podcast on Instagram: @thejohanncastrommapodcast

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