UFC 249 takeaways: Gaethje earns Khabib shot, what next for McGregor and is Cejudo really retired?

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UFC returned behind closed doors in Jacksonville and the overriding feeling afterwards could be summed up using just one word - wow!

The coronavirus pandemic forced UFC 249 - and the original main event of Khabib Nurmagomedov versus Tony Ferguson in Brooklyn – to be called off.

Instead, Ferguson ended up facing Justin Gaethje, the man who had stepped in for the original April 18 date before operations were suspended by president Dana White due to the global health crisis.

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And Gaethje caused an upset in monumental fashion when the pair finally met on Saturday, putting on a brutal display to stop Ferguson and claim the interim lightweight belt, leading him to immediately call out Khabib.

Before a strike had even landed in a thrilling main event, fans watching at home were reacting to Henry Cejudo's surprise retirement announcement after defending his bantamweight strap against Dominick Cruz.

After an action-packed card, it is time to look at the main takeaways from UFC 249.


GAETHJE EARNS SHOT AT KHABIB

Whatever the circumstances and whatever factors were against Ferguson, nothing should be taken away from Gaethje. An opportunity presented itself and he emphatically grasped it, putting on a punishing clinic against an all-time great. The landscape of a star-studded lightweight division was altered dramatically, too. The winner immediately called out unbeaten champion Khabib, who provides a fearsome mountain to climb but it is a shot Gaethje fully deserves following his latest success.

FERGUSON'S GALLANTRY PROVES COSTLY

It was a night that belonged to Gaethje, there is no doubting that. But Ferguson deserves immense credit for never shying away from a fight. For the majority of the past six months he has been preparing for the grappling skills of Khabib, as opposed to the striking ability of Gaethje. You also have to take into account Ferguson cut weight twice in the past four weeks – he was originally due to fight in April, of course - which is bound to have had an effect. Ferguson, though, is always ready and willing – yet perhaps that gallantry cost him in the end.

McGREGOR NEXT FOR TONY?

Gaethje's path looks pretty well set now for the next few months and, if travel restrictions are lifted enough, Khabib surely lies in wait before the end of 2020. Originally, UFC's plan appeared to be for Gaethje to face Conor McGregor, with the victor of that bout taking on whoever triumphed between Khabib and Ferguson. Ferguson has seen a showdown with Khabib scrapped five times and this defeat means that long-awaited dance may now never happen. But McGregor's plans are also up in the air now Gaethje looks out of the question for this year. It stands to reason, then, that UFC should look to book Ferguson against McGregor.

IS CEJUDO REALLY RETIRED?

On a card containing several jaw-dropping moments, bantamweight champion Cejudo threw a spanner in the works when he announced his retirement after scoring a contentious second-round stoppage over the returning Cruz. UFC boss White later said it was an option Cejudo had been pondering for some time, but that he did not know the announcement was coming at UFC 249. The thing is, in the MMA game, the lure of just one more fight often proves too much to resist. At 33, Cejudo still has plenty more to give so, while he may be retired now, keep watching this space…

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