UFC 249 Predictions and Best Bets

Predictions and betting picks for UFC 249, featuring Tony Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje in the main event.
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“We’ll see you soon. We will be the first event back. We’ll be the first sport back still.” -Dana White

Here we are. The man was true to his word. After an almost two-month hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic, the UFC is officially back. With “Fight Island” on ice for events in June and beyond, UFC 249 will take place this Saturday live from Jacksonville, Florida, and I’ll tell you, the card is stacked. 

There are 15 ranked fighters sprinkled across the card, two titles will be up for grabs and the main event will be absolute fireworks. The self-proclaimed lightweight title holder, Tony Ferguson, looks to be the first to win two interim titles. Standing in his way will be No. 4-ranked Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje, who will be stepping in as champion Khabib Nurmagomedov is held up with travel restrictions and unable to make it to the states due to the pandemic.

The co-main brings us yet another title fight, as current champion Henry Cejudo looks to continue his run against returning inaugural champion, Dominick Cruz. Cruz hasn't stepped into the octagon since his loss to Cody Garbrandt in late 2016. Cejudo and Cruz have been exchanging some healthy trash talk and both are chomping at the bit to prove just who is the king of the bantamweights, which we will find out after Saturday night.

If the main and co-main are not enough, just take a look at the rest of the lineup. The card itself will be remembered as the event that broke through the stranglehold this pandemic has on the sports world right now, but I have a feeling these fighters are going to make it potentially the card of the year just on sheer action alone.

Here’s the scoop.

SATURDAY 05/09/20 at 10 P.M. ET
BROADCAST: PPV – Prelims: ESPN
VENUE: VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena
LOCATION: Jacksonville, Florida
MATCHES: 12

MAIN CARD:

LIGHTWEIGHT INTERIM TITLE BOUT 155LBS

#1 TONY FERGUSON 25-3 VS #4 JUSTIN GAETHJE 21-2

BANTAMWEIGHT TITLE BOUT 135LBS

(C) HENRY CEJUDO 15-2 VS DOMINICK CRUZ 22-2

HEAVYWEIGHT BOUT 265LBS

#2 FRANCIS NGANNOU 14-3 VS #6 JAIRZINHO ROZENSTRUIK 10-0

FEATHERWEIGHT BOUT 145LBS

#7 JEREMY STEPHENS 28-17 VS #9 CALVIN KATTAR 20-4

HEAVYWEIGHT BOUT 265LBS

GREG HARDY 5-2 VS YORGAN DE CASTRO 6-0

PRELIMS:

WELTERWEIGHT BOUT 170LBS

#15 ANTHONY PETTIS 22-10 VS #6 DONALD CERRONE 36-14

HEAVYWEIGHT BOUT 265LBS

#12 ALEKSEI OLEINIK 58-13-1 VS FABRICIO WERDUM 23-8-1

WOMEN’S STRAWWEIGHT BOUT 115LBS

#7 CARLA ESPARZA 15-6 VS #8 MICHELLE WATERSON 17-7

[Cancelled] MIDDLEWEIGHT BOUT 185LBS

#10 URIAH HALL 15-9 VS #14 RONALDO SOUZA 26-8

WELTERWEIGHT BOUT 170LBS

#13 VICENTE LUQUE 17-7-1 VS NIKO PRICE 14-3

FEATHERWEIGHT BOUT 145LBS

BRYCE MITCHELL 12-0 VS CHARLES ROSA 12-3

LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT BOUT 205LBS

RYAN SPANN 17-5 VS SAM ALVEY 33-13

Will it be Tony Ferguson or Justin Gaethje who gets the next stab at Khabib?

Have you ever had someone tell you before a fight, “don’t blink?” Well if not, let me be the first, do not blink. This fight will be beautiful chaos. 

Tony Ferguson is a mad man. He’s so creative in there and has a gas tank for days. Riding a 12-fight win streak, he’s been at the top of the game for some time, fighting the best of the best along the way. Yet, somehow, the fight gods just have not given him that opportunity to hold the official strap. That said, he continues to take on big names and win impressively. 

Ferguson’s dominance has won more bonuses than any lightweight in the last five years. If victorious Saturday night, he’ll be the first fighter to hold two interim titles in the organization’s history. 

Looking to cancel those plans is Justin Gaethje. Initially stepping up on what was to be the shortest notice of his fight career, Gaethje was set to face Ferguson on April 18. With the event being cancelled due to coronavirus, that gifted Gaethje four more weeks to prepare for the match up rebooked for Saturday. 

Gaethje is arguably one of the sport’s most exciting fighters, and his resume backs it up all the way. He’s the first fighter in UFC history to win performance bonuses in each of his first six fights. Prior to joining the UFC, Gaethje fought in a few other organizations and had left as WSOF Lightweight Champion for the big stage back in 2016. 

Prior to entering the UFC, he went 17-0 and carried an 88% finish rate. His finishes were heavy on the KO/TKO side, as he stopped 14 of his opponents in that fashion. The dude can throw. He made his UFC debut in 2017 against Michael Johnson and won via TKO inside of two rounds, officially showing UFC homers why they call him “The Highlight.” 

After his debut, he dropped two straight losses to Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, the first two defeats of his career. He took them in stride and was vocal about knowing he would lose someday, knowing it would make him a better fighter in the long run. Well here we are. He’s now won three straight, all by KO/TKO, and has put himself right at the top of title contention, hence the matchup we get on Saturday.

So, the big question is who takes it?

Ferguson is the rightful favorite, hovering around -200, with the comeback on Gaethje at +160 (odds provided by William Hill). Both fighters have tremendous wrestling/grappling bases, yet they both tend to stand and bang, in a big way. As a matter of fact, Gaethje has never even attempted a takedown in the UFC, with about 98% of his matches taking place on the feet. 

Ferguson is much the same. With 80-plus percent of his UFC time on the feet, he has tended to rather stand and pick apart his opponents with a plethora of strikes coming from all directions. 

There are a couple ways this can go. Expect both fighters to rush forward right from the bell, looking to land big first and early. Both guys have some serious volume output, but also get hit a lot themselves while moving forward as we’ve seen across their careers. Ferguson tends to keep his hands low, baiting his opponents to open up, where Ferguson strikes with counters and combos. This will be a dangerous tactic against Gaethje. 

A couple things to consider. I don’t believe Ferguson has truly sparred with headgear and took shots in years. I believe he’s actually stated its not part of his regimen. Go back and watch his matchup against Lando Vannata. Ferguson took a few strikes, along with a spinning backfist, and was doing the riverdance in there. He was probably a shot or two away from losing a fight he was a -600 favorite in. Seriously, go check it. If Gaethje lands just one of his shots, as Vannata was able to, it's going to be a very different story here. Gaethje has the power and output to get it done. He will have to do it early, though. 

The later this fight goes, the momentum will shift to Ferguson’s favor. You just cannot absorb on average 9.67 strikes per minute and be successful against a guy like Ferguson with five rounds to work. In film I've watched, Ferguson typically matches the output volume and pace of his opponent, and typically will continue the given pace while his foe begins to deplete. Knowing this, expect the pace of this fight to be up there and right from the get go. 

If Ferguson can weather the storm early and take Gaethje into those deep waters, it's his fight. I like Gaethje’s chances to land and land early. Give me the value at +160.

PREDICTION: GAETHJE +160
PREDICTION: UNDER 2.5 ROUNDS -127

William Hill PropBets:

Screen Shot 2020-05-08 at 9.22.40 AM

Other wagers worth a look:

Which version of Francis Ngannou will we see Saturday night?

A trendy dog wager this week has been Jairzinho “Bigi Boy” Rozenstruik against former title contender Francis Ngannou. Rozenstruik is coming off of his highlight reel finish of Alistair Overeem back in December. In a fight where Overeem was up big on the cards, Rozenstruik landed a massive shot, completely destroying Overeem’s lip and knocking him down with just four seconds left in the final round. 

Though Overeem immediately jumped back up to his feet to continue, referee Dan Miragliotta waved the fight off right before the final bell. Overeem was up and intelligently ready to defend himself to make that final bell, which would have resulted in him taking the victory and handing Rozenstruik the first loss of his career. The Rozenstruik victory positioned himself for this matchup on Saturday night against No. 2-ranked Francis Ngannou. 

At 14-3, Ngannou has won all his fights via finish (10 KO, 4 SUB) and has been on an absolute tear since dropping two in a row to Stipe Miocic and Derrick Lewis. The Miocic title fight started off looking like we would have a new champ by end of night, but Ngannou ended up getting outworked on the mat by the champ. The Lewis fight was just straight weird and really neither guy won. They landed 31 total strikes combined and really just avoided each other the entire fight. 

Since then, Ngannou has vowed to never fight that way again and surely hasn’t. He’s finished Curtis Blaydes, Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos all in the first round via KO/TKO. 

The fact that Rozenstruik really didn’t impress me much in the Overeem fight (except for the one kill shot he landed), coupled with knowing that Ngannou has been training and in camp for the last 17 weeks getting ready for whoever would be next, has me placing a wager on the favorite, even at -275. Rozenstruik has never been finished in MMA and only twice in 85 kickboxing matches. I’ll probably stay away from the TKO/KO prop, although it's always in play with Ngannou.

PREDICTION: NGANNOU -275

William Hill PropBets:

Screen Shot 2020-05-08 at 9.28.11 AM

Cejudo is talking, but can he back it up again?

Cejudo looks to keep things rolling against former champ Dominick Cruz, who out of nowhere, jumped the line for this title shot after being away for more than three years. He’s done that before, though, if you remember. Cruz stepped away back in 2011 after defeating Demetrious Johnson and came back to finish Takeya Mizugaki in just one round. Talk about fading ring rust! Here he is again looking to make history, and that he will if he can dethrone Cejudo. 

Cejudo is up there in the pound-for-pound discussion, and currently holds both the bantamweight and flyweight titles. Coming back from shoulder surgery, he looks to be in great shape and was originally scheduled to face hand-picked opponent, the legend Jose Aldo. However, the match was scrapped as well due to the pandemic. With Aldo in Brazil, in steps Cruz, and you can’t count him out. 

The line on Cruz is pretty disrespectful considering he’s 22-2, a former champ on more than one occasion, and has only one defeat in the last 13 years—a fight he competed well in, although it eventually came out he was plagued by plantar fascia tendonitis through camp and into the fight. Cruz is ready to roll here and Cejudo is already talking about his next two opponents after this fight. 

Side note: anyone see that cut on Cejudo eye this week? I like the value on Cruz up around +200 here, and will take a position on the fight going the distance.

PREDICTION: Cruz +190 (value)
PREDICTION: Fight goes to decision -160

William Hill PropBets:

Screen Shot 2020-05-08 at 9.28.50 AM

A couple other quick takes:

  • Can Charles Rosa hand Bryce Mitchell his first loss? He should have the advantage on the feet, so the key will be leveraging Mitchell’s 33% takedown defense. Oddsmakers favor Mitchell, but I believe the line should be tighter and worth a look.
  • I see Hardy putting on a performance similar to his match with Ben Sosoli here against Yorgan De Castro, minus using the inhaler mid-fight.
  • Kattar is not a -250 favorite against Jeremy Stephens in my book, yet I side with him edging out the vet. Kattar via decision at plus money might be worth a look if you like the props.
  • Two fights I’ll stay away from are Esparza/Waterson and Pettis/Cerrone.

QUICK PREDICTIONS ON THE MATCHUPS:

GAETHJE upsets FERGUSON

CRUZ upsets CEJUDO

NGANNOU defeats ROZENSTRUIK

KATTAR defeats STEPHENS

HARDY defeats DE CASTRO

WERDUM defeats OLEINIK

PETTIS defeats CERRONE

WERDUM defeats OLEINIK

ESPARZA defeats WATERSON

LUQUE defeats PRICE

ROSA upsets MITCHELL

SPANN defeats ALVEY

Kick some tail this weekend and don’t forget the UFC has two more cards next week! 

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