Colorado fighter Justin Gaethje salvages UFC 249

Mar 30, 2019; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Justin Gaethje celebrates his win over Edson Barboza (not pictured) during UFC Fight Night at Wells Fargo Arena. Gaethje won the fight. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The world has been rattled to its core over the last few weeks as the COVID-19 virus has spread across the globe, devastating the livelihood of millions of people.

Stateside, the last four weeks have been especially brutal. Virtually all of the country is cooped up at home waiting for this virus to pass over.

All upcoming sporting events have either been canceled or postponed. Sports fans across the world are going stir crazy with no live sporting events, especially here in Colorado, where a local sports team has not played since March 11.

While nobody knows when this situation will end, many are working to make things feel normal again in the sports world, especially the UFC.

The last UFC event was UFC Fight Night: Lee vs. Oliveira in Brasília, Brazil, on March 14th. The card was closed to the public but was streamed to the masses on ESPN+.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship has since canceled their last three scheduled events. Still, President Dana has been relentless in his purist to continue putting on events in light of the coronavirus pandemic, most notably UFC 249.

UFC 249 was originally supposed to be a much-anticipated showdown between Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0) and Tony Ferguson (25-3). Unfortunately, Nurmagomedov was forced to pull out of the card as potential travel restrictions will prevent him from fighting on April 18. It’s the fifth time a fight between the two has been called off.

That said, White refused to can the card and instead booked local fighter Justin Gaethje (21-2) as Nurmagomedov’s replacement. The fight will be for the interim lightweight title.

Gaethje is based out of Arvada, Colorado, and wrestled for the University of Northern Colorado. He went on to earn the first Division I All-American honors in the program’s history, placing seventh place in the 2010 nationals.

Gaethje represents Elevation Fight Team, and takes the fight on extremely short notice, despite being linked to a potential showdown with UFC poster boy Conor McGregor.

Gaethje acknowledged he would not be 100 percent ready by fight night in an interview with ESPN, but said he would be close to 95 percent. This will be the first time Gaethje will fight on short notice. He’s previously been opposed to the idea, but a chance at the UFC championship swayed him.

“I haven’t [ever taken a fight on such short-notice],” Gaethje told TMZ. “But I also haven’t been offered a UFC title, and that’s the only thing I’m working for. That’s all I’ve been working for since the beginning, so I’m ready to gamble. There are very few people on earth who would sign up for what me and Tony just signed up for — including most fighters. A lot of guys will say that they’re ready but will not put their name on that dotted line.”

As for what Gaethje thinks will happen in the octagon?

“18 to 19 minutes of pure hell.”

“My fights, either I get finished, or they get finished inside three rounds,” Gaethje said. “A matchup like this, with me and Tony Ferguson, one of us is going to finish the other inside three rounds.”

Despite not having a full training camp, Gaethje is not concerned about his conditioning. Gaethje needs to cut roughly 13 pounds by the April 17 weigh-in but hopes to enter the octagon weighing 173 pounds.

Both Ferguson and Gaethje are known for their ability to both inflict and take damage.

While the original fight between Ferguson and Nurmagomedov is off, Gaethje is a more than adequate replacement. His actions will give sports fans across the world the chance to tune into a live event, and forgot about the coronavirus for a while.

The location for UFC 249 has not been made public, and neither fighter is aware of where the event will take place.

Aside from the main event, the card is stacked with 12 total fights scheduled. UFC 249 will be available on ESPN+ PPV with the main card scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. MST.

– Aniello Piro is a founding member of The MMA Plug and can be followed on Instagram @MediaByAP @TheMMAPlug303 and @MileHighSports. 

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