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Opinion: Breaking down UFC 249’s main event: Tony Ferguson versus Justin Gaethje

Photo Credit: UFC

I am a glass-half-full type of guy.  If there are a few bright spots during these troubling times, the new main event match-up on Saturday evening in Jacksonville, Florida, at UFC 249 must be one of them. The universe does not want Khabib Nurmagomedov defending his lightweight title against Tony ‘El Cucuy’ Ferguson. Nurmagomedov is looking for a July return to the Octagon. Will the victor of this fight be ready to go by then? In the meantime, we are going to be treated to a Fight of the Year candidate.

In order to predict the future, I must look to the past. Five days ago, the UFC posted a classic Fight of the Night winner between Clay ‘The Carpenter’ Guida and Diego ‘Nightmare’ Sanchez from The Ultimate Fighter Finale: United States vs. United Kingdom which took place nearly eleven years ago. I doubt Gaethje versus Ferguson will start off at quite the same frenetic and reckless pace as Guida vs. Sanchez did. If it does, we are not going to make it to round two. Gaethje and Ferguson both have world-class gas tanks and world-class KO power from their hands, feet, knees, and elbows!

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In the first round of Guida versus Diego Sanchez, Joe Rogan speculated that Clay’s nose may have been broken. We know Justin Gaethje is hoping for that to become a reality in his case. Unable to breathe through his right nostril after a previous surgery twelve years ago, Gaethje is hoping one of Ferguson’s appendages does him a solid. If his nose is broken during the fight, the UFC will pay for the corrective surgery. Gaethje spoke about it during a conference call with the media on Tuesday, his right nostril is closed so tight the nurse conducting his pre-fight COVID-19 swab test was unable to break through the scar tissue.

Unlike Guida, I doubt Gaethje will attempt to takedown ‘El Cucuy,’ who has a significant advantage on the ground and in the submission game. Best case scenario – Gaethje is able to get Ferguson down only to end up inside his closed guard getting elbows rained down on his forehead. Very similar to how Sanchez did the same to Guida back in 2009. Ferguson is much better off his back than Sanchez ever was, attacking a variety of submissions while seamlessly mixing in devastating strikes.  Shooting a takedown on Ferguson is also a great set-up for his well-regarded D’Arce choke. Ferguson has heavy hips, a great sprawl and whizzer, all which help him sink the choke. Who are we kidding?  The only way either of these guys go to ground on Saturday night is by trip, slip, knockdown, or knockout.

Based on their records in the UFC, the slight edge must go to Ferguson. He hasn’t lost since he came up short via unanimous decision to Michael Johnson in 2012.  Ferguson has never been knocked out. On the other hand, Gaethje, despite tremendous momentum as of late, has been stopped twice in recent years at the hands of Dustin Poirier and former lightweight champion, Eddie Alvarez. Both those defeats were awarded Fight of the Night status. Win or lose Gaethje is must-see tv, having accrued a bonus in every fight for the company.

As I said, I give Ferguson a slight edge because he has the more durable chin and more well-rounded game.  However, will he forget about his edge on the ground once the adrenaline starts pumping and the crowd starts to roar? Well, you will have to imagine the last part for the time being, but May 9th. is a step in the right direction. Do not blink when the buzzer sounds. It’s almost time.

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