UFC 249: Is it safe? How significant is Ferguson-Gaethje? - The big questions answered

Omnisport

It's UFC but not as we know it.

The coronavirus pandemic is drastically changing the landscape of sport and the world of UFC is no different.

UFC 249 was originally due to take place in the middle of April but that event and several others scheduled to take place after were unable to go ahead as operations were suspended.

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But president Dana White was determined to forge ahead and the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, will host a rearranged behind-closed-doors UFC 249 on Saturday.

Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje will battle it out for the interim lightweight title, while Henry Cejudo meets the returning legend Dominick Cruz for the bantamweight strap.

Here, we answer the big questions ahead of Saturday's action…


IS IT SAFE TO FIGHT?

About as safe as it can be in the current world climate. White said last month "it's not going to be cheap. It's going to be expensive" so UFC will be doing everything they can to ensure a safe environment for the show. The event has the backing of the state of Florida and, crucially, ESPN – whose intervention was part of the reason an April 18 date was kiboshed. As a sign it can be done, WWE has filmed shows out of Orlando without fans including its flagship pay-per-view Wrestlemania. That's not to say it is completely risk free but UFC is pulling out all the stops.


WHAT PROTOCOLS ARE IN PLACE?

First and foremost, and somewhat self-explanatory, no fans will be attendance at the venue. All the fighters will be subjected to stringent daily testing at a sealed off hotel, which will extend to team members and all staff working on the event. According to ESPN, UFC is to administer the diagnostic swap coronavirus test and the antibody test, while fighters will be encouranged not to mingle in large groups. Individual workout rooms are to be provided to ensure fighters can train and cut weight, and each will be equipped with mats, mat sanitiser and a personal sauna. Meals will be provided for those who want it at scheduled times and outside hotel room doors.


HOW SIGNIFICANT IS THE FERGUSON-GAETHJE FIGHT?

In terms of the lightweight division, extremely. The interim belt will be on the line in the co-main event and the winner will likely be next in line to fight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. Ferguson of course was supposed to be fighting Khabib in Brooklyn before travel restrictions prevented the champion from entering the United States and the show was scrapped altogether. It was the fifth time a scheduled bout between the two had been cancelled but an opportunity has presented itself for Gaethje. If he can pull off a huge win then the division's path will have changed drastically. If Ferguson wins then surely he and Khabib will finally meet in the Octagon further down the road.


IS CRUZ THE RIGHT OPPONENT FOR CEJUDO?

Cejudo is the kind of guy you either love or hate – there's not much middle ground. His achievements should not be underplayed, though. This is a guy who four years ago suffered a humbling first-round knockout defeat to Demetrious Johnson, only to go away, get better and dethrone the all-time great from the flyweight throne in August 2018. He went on to defeat TJ Dillashaw, who stepped down a division, and then became a two-belt champion by overcoming Marlon Moraes to claim the bantamweight strap almost a year ago. But since then Cejudo's motives have been questionable, calling out legends such as Frankie Edgar, Urijah Faber and Jose Aldo. Dominick Cruz is considered by most as the greatest bantamweight of all time but he has not fought since dropping the belt in a shock loss to Cody Garbrandt in December 2016 with injuries cruelly denying him the opportunity to work his way back to the top. At this stage it's hard to see Cruz as a title contender and Cejudo might be better served proving himself against a high-ranked challenger such as Aljamain Sterling.


WHERE'S AMANDA NUNES?

Two-weight champion Amanda Nunes was said to have had a verbal agreement to defend her featherweight belt against Felicia Spencer as part of a co-main event. However, the brilliant Brazilian – who is on a 10-fight winning streak – stated last month she would not be part of a May 9 card. Nunes explained that she wanted a full camp to prepare for a title defence and that she would reassess the situation for a possible fight in June.


WHAT ELSE IS ON THE CARD?

In a stacked card, Francis Ngannou will take on Jairzinho Rozenstruik in a heavyweight bout that was due to headline UFC: Colombus before coronavirus got in the way. A win for either would enhance their claims to a title shot. Also on the main card, Jeremy Stephens and Calvin Kattar will meet in a featherweight fight, while Greg Hardy and Yorgan de Castro wage war in the heavyweight division. And among the prelims, long-time fan favourites Donald Cerrone and Anthony Pettis will face off - the former having lost to Conor McGregor as recently as January.

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