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UFC 249: Gaethje, Cejudo score TKOs; Esparza scores decision

UFC 249 was definitely one for the history books. Saturday night's first major mixed martial arts event in months -- and the first pro sports event in this era of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic -- could also claim a couple other firsts. For starters, there were no fans in the stands at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonsville, Florida … and one contestant was forced to withdraw after being diagnosed with the virus.

Not to mention that the event had been rescheduled and relocated more than once in the past month or so to find a possible site which could host a major sports event in an era of social distancing, new safety regulations and other issues brought about by the virus.

On a brighter note, three UFC fighters who were once amateur wrestlers came out on top at UFC 249:

  • In the main event -- a five-round battle of former collegiate mat stars at 155 pounds -- Justin Gaethje def. Tony Ferguson via fifth-round TKO (punches)

  • Henry Cejudo (c) def. Dominick Cruz via second-round TKO (punches)

  • Carla Esparza def. Michelle Waterson via split decision (30-27, 27-30, 29-28)

    Tony Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje

    A bout billed as one involving "two of the most exciting fighters in UFC history" -- both with amateur wrestling credentials -- did not disappoint, with Gaethje -- a two-time Arizona state high school champ and an NCAA All-American at University of Northern Colorado -- coming out the winner with a TKO finish at 3 minutes, 39 seconds of the final round in the fifth-main event of UFC 249 over Ferguson, who was a Michigan high school state champ, then stepped up to wrestle at Central Michigan University, then won a 2006 National Collegiate Wrestling Association title for Grand Valley State in 2006.

    With the win, Gaethje left Jacksonville with the UFC interim lightweight belt.

    "UFC was hoping to be an entertaining respite for those starved for live sports during the global coronavirus pandemic. Consider that a mission accomplished, courtesy of Justin Gaethje and Tony Ferguson," according to ESPN.com.

    The battle was action-packed; both fighters hit a combined 279 significant strikes, the most ever for a UFC fight where there were no strikes on the ground or in a clinch were attempted.

    Another indicator of the intensity of the action: Gaethje and Ferguson each won $50,000 Fight of the Night bonuses, while Gaethje won another $50,000 bonus for Performance of the Night.

    Then, in the fifth and final round, Gaethje landed a hard left hand in the fifth that wobbled Ferguson, and referee Herb Dean stepped in to wave it off.

    "I told my coaches, 'You're not gonna like it, but I'm ready to die tonight,'" Gaethje said in the cage afterward with Joe Rogan. "That's the mentality you have to come in there with."

    UFC President Dana White said he thought it was the right call to stop the fight.

    "I actually thought the fight should have been stopped sooner," White said. "Tony took a lot of damage tonight. Not only did he take a lot of damage, it was from a guy who hits like a f---ing truck, a guy who punches very hard and usually knocks people unconscious when he hits them with those shots."

    With the call, Gaethje scored the interim lightweight title, and now owns a 22-2 overall record -- and 5-2 in the UFC, while Ferguson ends a 12-bout win streak going back eight years, with an overall record of 25-4, and is now 15-2 in UFC competition.

    According to UFC's White, the next lightweight title match to make is Gaethje vs. Nurmagomedov.

    Henry Cejudo vs. Dominick Cruz

    Henry Cejudo, a Cinderella story in freestyle wrestling for winning a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics ... then adding to that golden reputation with his performance in his last mixed martial arts bout, as he has now announced his plans to retire from pro MMA.

    Henry Cejudo
    In an exchange in the second round of the Cejudo vs. Cruz fight, the two fighters collide heads.

    "Immediately, Cejudo is sliced open," according to MMAJunkie.com. "The doctor examines, but the cut appears to be small and on the hairline. There is a lot of blood. The doctor gives her OK and the action resumes. Moments later, Cejudo drops Cruz with a hard counter knee. Cejudo pounces and lands a series of hard follow up shots. Cruz is face down, trying to get up, but he's getting whacked. Referee Keith Peterson dives in. That's it. Cruz protests the stoppage, but there were a lot of unanswered shots. Regardless, that's the fight. Cejudo retains."

    The final result: Cejudo scores a win over Dominick Cruz via TKO (strikes) at 4:58 in Round 2 of their UFC 249 bout to retain his UFC bantamweight (135-pound) title. Then, immediately after the match, Cejudo announced his plans to retire.

    Cejudo concluded his pro MMA career with an overall record of 16-2 in MMA, and a 10-2 mark in UFC). Dominick Cruz left the Octagon in Jacksonville with an overall MMA record of 22-3, and 5-2 in UFC events.

    Carla Esparza vs. Michelle Waterson

    In a 115.5-pound strawweight match-up, Carla Esparza -- who wrestled at Redondo Union High School in California, then continued at Menlo College in the Golden State -- came out the winner in a three-round preliminary bout at UFC 249, defeating Michelle Waterson 27-30, 29-28 and 30-27 on the judges' scorecards, thus earning a split-decision.

    Here's how MMAJunkie.com reported on the bout:

    "In the first round, both fighters were tentative to engage. The shots weren't thrown often, but both still had their respective moments on the feet. In the last 30 seconds of the round, Esparza was able to secure takedown and control Waterson from top position.

    "The second round was much closer than the first. The fight never hit the ground and there was little action on the feet.

    "In the third and final round, Waterson kept control of the outside of the octagon and was able to avoid takedowns from Esparza. Waterson also landed several leg and body kicks. Esparza had a few nice right hands, and picked up the pace in the final minute, rushing and landing several flurry of punches on Waterson.

    "Esparza is now on a three-fight winning streak. Her last defeat came in late 2018. She now has a record of 16-6. This is the second straight loss for Waterson, who now is 17-8.
  • Comments

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    ban basketball (1) about 7 months ago
    For starters, Gaethje was a one-time all-American at Northern Colorado. Being solely a UNI fan, I recall it well.

    As for Cejudo, it goes to show how a long lay-off from fighting affects fighter, as Cejudo wouldn't have held a candle to Cruz in Cruz' day.