UFC 249 Preview & Predictions
By Cathal Geeney
Ferguson vs Gaethje
The UFC interim lightweight title is on the line between two of the most exciting fighters around.
Tony Ferguson is a wild, unorthodox striker. He likes to switch stances and put on pressure with straight punches while mixing in kicks to the legs, body and head of his opponent. He is an experienced grappler having wrestled in college and is also a Black Belt in BJJ training under Eddie Bravo.
Ferguson is comfortable anywhere the fight goes. When standing, he will look to push the pace with strikes, in the clinch he will unleash knees and elbows, on the mat he will look for a submission or to attack with strikes, even while on his back.
This is what makes him such a tough opponent. He has incredible cardio and the word ‘quit’ is not in his vocabulary. El Cucuy can be overly reckless however and doesn’t always protect his chin. This leaves Ferguson susceptible to being caught and there is no doubt Gaethje will be confident he can find that chin and hurt Ferguson.
Gaethje is also a wild striker and always looks to put on a show. The fact that he has NCAA Division 1 wrestling experience yet relies almost entirely on his striking sums up his approach to the sport. He would prefer to entertain and come out with a loss than take a boring victory. He has some of the hardest leg kicks in the game and will look to utilise these early to slow down Ferguson. He has incredible power in his hooks and will aim to push the pace and throw wild shots inside the pocket.
The number four ranked lightweight doesn’t have the best footwork or movement to defend, instead he will hold up his hands and take some shots while walking down his opponent. He can withstand a lot of shots but has been shown to tire as the fight goes on. His gung-ho style of attack is just not sustainable for five rounds.
Prediction: This is a tough fight to call and a fascinating match up. The longer it progresses, the more Ferguson’s chances of victory increase.
However, I feel Ferguson will be caught with a big shot at some stage. Therefore, I am taking Justin Gaethje to win the strap on Saturday night as an underdog.
Cejudo vs Cruz
Dominick Cruz looks to take back his bantamweight belt as he returns to the octagon for the first time in almost three and a half years against reigning champion Henry Cejudo.
Cruz is considered one of the greatest bantamweights in the history of the sport with a very distinctive fighting style.
The thirty-five year old relies on his constant movement, entering the pocket and letting off a jab or a hook from an angle before using his fast feet and head movement to avoid being countered. He will mix in kicks and is also an accomplished grappler. If given the opportunity he will look to land a takedown, however, against Cejudo, he may avoid this.
Cruz has always stated he doesn’t believe in ring rust but that will have to be of concern here. He has had a number of injuries and setbacks over the years and his game plan is reliant on high energy and constant movement.
The condition and lack of activity of Cruz will be an unknown here which makes picking him a considerable risk, regardless of his opponent. To put some perspective around this, in the timeframe that Cejudo turned professional, amassed a record of fifteen wins and two losses and won both the flyweight and bantamweight titles, Cruz has only fought four times.
Henry Cejudo is a freak athlete. He comes from a wrestling background having won an Olympic gold medal in 2008 before transitioning to MMA. This is a huge part of his game and anybody coming up against Cejudo will have to work very hard to avoid a takedown.
Even if Henry is not shooting, he will catch a kick or throw a feint which keeps you guessing. Cejudo can generally rely on his wrestling to see him through to victory.
However, he has developed a very effective striking game. He adapts a karate pose with a heavy lead leg and a straight back. He throws kicks and feints while continuously switching stances. When he can get inside, he is not afraid to exchange and let some powerful hooks go. He is also powerful in the clinch and can unleash dangerous knees from this position.
Prediction: Cejudo has overcome all obstacles to become a two-weight champion and I see him defending his title this weekend. It will be very interesting to see how this fight plays out but I expect Cejudo to have some success with his wrestling and push the pace on Cruz to take the win.
Ngannou vs Rozenstruik
On the main card we will see a monster clash between two titans of the heavyweight division.
This contest will likely serve as a title eliminator for the heavyweight strap.
Francis Ngannou is arguably the most feared athlete on the entire roster right now. The Cameroonian born fighter looks to his jab to set up a huge right hand. He strikes with speed and power which few can withstand. He is not invincible though, there are holes in his grappling and cardio which were exposed in his loss to Stipe Miocic.
This match-up suits Ngannou however as Rozenstruik is also a striker, so he should not have to worry about any grappling.
Rozenstruik also possesses devastating power. He has finished all four of his previous UFC bouts by knockout.
Having transitioned into MMA from kickboxing, he will use his jab from an orthodox position to set up combinations. In terms of kicking, the Surinamese fighter will look to mix his kicks up to the head and body of Ngannou and his kickboxing experience could give him an edge here.
Prediction: pThis fight is a fascinating contest of two strikers. Rozenstruik has never been defeated while Ngannou has never been stopped, making this a tough one to call. It may come down to who lands that knockout shot first. Given the power and additional MMA experience of Ngannou, I am taking him to get the victory.