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UFC 249 Main Event Breakdown: Tony Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje Amongst the Silence

Cover photo courtesy of Justin Gaethje via Instagram.



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“Hands Up… Chin Down” 💪🕶 -CSO- @rdx_sports #teamrdx 🇺🇸🏆🇲🇽 #ufc249

A post shared by @TonyFergusonxt (@tonyfergusonxt) on Apr 16, 2020 at 10:26pm PDT

The world is in a sense of confusion, bewilderment, and oddity to an extent of which very few alive today can claim they themselves have experienced before. The coronavirus pandemic has modified our world in such a way that has seen us modify the way we live, having to adjust to a new sense of normalcy and understanding in how we all view the future. The pandemic has led to the cancellation of all major global sporting events, ranging from the NBA, MLB, and NHL here in North America, to major international football competitions globally.

On May 9th, the UFC will be the first mainstream sport to officially re-open its competitive doors, and its main event will host potentially one of the most violent fights in UFC history. Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje will meet in the center of the Octagon, in this case, quite literally. Both men hold claim as being two of the most violent, blood-and-guts, all-action fighters in UFC history. To add onto the magnitude of the bout, it’s also for the Interim Lightweight Championship, meaning the winner will all but definitely face one of either champion Khabib Nurmagomedov or megastar Conor McGregor in their next bout, making this not only a fan pleasing affair in a time of uncertainty, but also a potential life changing fiduciary opportunity waiting in the wings for the winner.

Tony Ferguson



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“Takes Balls To Do What We Gotta Do” 🥇 @rdx_sports #TeamRDX # GetSum 💪🕶 -CSO- 🇺🇸🏆🇲🇽 #ufc249 Focused 🌱

A post shared by @TonyFergusonxt (@tonyfergusonxt) on Apr 9, 2020 at 10:35am PDT

The former interim UFC lightweight champion has been in top form since, well, 2011. This, as aforementioned, will be his second attempt at UFC gold, hoping to replicate the outcome from his first endeavor after defeating Kevin Lee at UFC 216 in October 2017. Ferguson is also entering this fight with a significant edge in Octagon experience, as well as coming in off the heels of a full training camp, as to where Gaethje is entering with an abbreviated 4-week training camp.

Trying to stylistically analyze Tony Ferguson is like trying to analyze the best methods of attack for a mountain lion; his methods of attack are about as unpredictable as you’ll find from an MMA fighter of his caliber. Ferguson has a wrestling base, but rarely ever uses it offensively. He has a great Brazilian Jiu Jitsu game rooted in the 10th Planet sub-genre, but only uses it if he finds himself in an inadvertent situation when he needs it.

Ferguson’s favorite way to fight is to brawl, simple as that. And he’s damn good at it. Ferguson is one of the most underrated fighters at range management, as he works behind a power jab on the end of his 76-inch reach. Ferguson doesn’t carry a particularly great deal of power, but has shown that he is more than capable of finishing with highlight reel knockouts in past outings. Ferguson’s biggest weapon, however, is undoubtedly his volume, pace, and cardio to do it for as long he wants. Again, Ferguson will rarely capture a finish with one shot. He does his best work grinding his opponents into a bloody mess with his mixture of punches, low kicks, and elbows.

The one big susceptibility in Ferguson’s game is his willingness to sometimes take shots to land some of his own. This was evident in the matchups with Lando Vannata, Kevin Lee, and Anthony Pettis, and if Ferguson leaves himself open too much against a powerful fighter like Gaethje, he could be in serious danger.

Justin Gaethje



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I really felt a surge of energy and support as this fight was building up from so many ppl across the world, it was very humbling. I am thankful to represent Safford, AZ and my great friends and family. I’m going to be working hard to be ready next time the opportunity arises. Let’s get through this fight we are all facing right now by having a positive impact on our immediate surroundings (family, neighbor, community) Thank you!! 🙏 The boss @danawhite is someone I am proud to do business with. #ufc249

A post shared by Justin Gaethje 🇺🇸 (@justin_gaethje) on Apr 10, 2020 at 10:48am PDT

Making his first appearance in a UFC title fight, Justin Gaethje, the former World Series of Fighting (WSOF) lightweight champion, enters this contest in perhaps the best form of his career. Gaethje enters this bout with Ferguson after three consecutive first round knockouts over perennial lightweight contenders James Vick, Edson Barboza, and Donald Cerrone.

As mentioned previously, Gaethje has accepted this bout with Ferguson after only a 4-week training camp, which Gaethje has openly admitted he doesn’t prefer to the usual 8 to 10-week camps seen in full camps. The belief, however, is that Gaethje won’t need a full camp to do what he does best. Gaethje’s most powerful weapon? No doubt, his power. Gaethje, for my money, has more raw power than any other UFC lightweight, more so than even the Irish golden child. Gaethje has a pension for simply landing on someone’s chin or lower cheekbone, and just calling it a night. I would almost dignify it with the famous “Touch of God” designation. Gaethje also utilizes leg kicks better than any other lightweight on the roster. Against Ferguson, who has a restructured knee after his injury prior to UFC 223, the leg kicks may be Gaethje’s most valuable path to victory.

Gaethje is the epitome of the “kill or be killed” fighter. For Gaethje, if he doesn’t score an early finish, it could be a very long night for him. Against Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, he was unable to achieve an early finish, and war ensued with him coming out on the losing end of a finish each time. Against a cardio machine like Ferguson, Gaethje may need to score an early knockout if he has any hope of winning.

Primary X-Factor: Ferguson’s Ability to Control Distance vs. Gaethje’s Ability to Land Cleanly in the Pocket



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🇺🇸

A post shared by Justin Gaethje 🇺🇸 (@justin_gaethje) on Mar 28, 2019 at 6:11pm PDT

To me, this fight has many x-factors but the main one is simple to figure out. The biggest question for both men will obviously be, as it is prior to every fight, which one can impose their game plan to a superior level. In this case, the range and management of it by Ferguson will be all the key to the outcome. If Gaethje is able to overcome the 6 inches of reach he’s giving up to Ferguson and land cleanly, it would only seem like a matter of time before he lands one of those atomic bombs that has spelled the end for his last three opponents. However, if Ferguson pressures Gaethje and keeps him on the end of his jab, allowing him the ability to generate offense from the center of the Octagon, it’s hard to envision Gaethje landing that all-important Hail Mary shot with his back foot against the cage.

Official Prediction: Ferguson by TKO, 3rd Round



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Tool of choice 💪 #UFC249

A post shared by ufc (@ufc) on May 5, 2020 at 7:51am PDT

Again, this one doesn’t seem terribly difficult to figure out. It’s a tale of two outcomes: can Ferguson keep Gaethje at range, or can Gaethje close the distance and make Ferguson pay for leaving his chin up? Methodically, Ferguson carries the majority of advantages in this fight; the primary being, in my eyes, the presence of an entire training camp, which will undoubtedly help him the later the fight goes. Ferguson already possesses the best cardio in the division, and Gaethje has been shown to gas against pressure fighters, which Ferguson might be the best representation of in the division.

This is a massive fight. This could be the most important fight of 2020, the very reason being it impacts what happens moving forward regarding the sport’s two biggest stars in Nurmagomedov and McGregor, as well as being the factor that could decide whether or not the long awaited Nurmagomedov-Ferguson matchup ever actually takes place. May 9th is a massive day in global sports, and a massive day for the future of the UFC.■

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