UFC 249 may not have been a necessary event in the eyes of many, but holy cow did it deliver.

The event was the first major sporting event, albeit crowdless, in the United States since the coronavirus stoppages took place in March. Saturday night in Jacksonville, FL was a spectacle to say the least. 

After multiple date and venue changes, the worldwide leader in MMA defied the odds to put on a show with twenty-two fighters ranging from 115 lb. women to 265 lb. heavyweight men. The event did not come together without controversy, though, as one bout had to be scrapped from the lineup when Jacare Souza tested positive for COVID-19. 

Souza and two other cornermen tested positive for COVID-19, although they are asymptomatic and are now reportedly self-isolating under the care of the UFC resource staff. 

After the news broke of Souza’s test results, some members of the media criticized the safety protocol at the hotel and were clamoring for the event to be canceled. As of Sunday afternoon, Souza is the lone fighter originally on the card to have tested positive for COVID-19. 

Thankfully, Souza’s positive test did not derail the event, and the show went on without any flaws to the public eye.

Main event: Ferguson vs Gaethje: 

Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje stole the show with a highlight-reel worthy performance against “El Cucuy” Tony Ferguson. The Elevation Fight Team product captured the interim lightweight championship via fifth-round TKO and is now in line for a shot at the undefeated Dagestani mauler and undisputed champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov. 

The Gaethje vs Ferguson matchup was billed to be one of the most violent fights in UFC title fight history, and according to the numbers, it was as advertised. According to the statistics reported at UFCstats.com, Gaethje landed 143 significant strikes, with 100 of them finding their mark on Ferguson’s head at an astonishing 72 percent accuracy rate.

That is insane — Gaethje cracked Ferguson with left hook after left hook. Also, to give credit where credit is due, what a chin on Ferguson to have stayed standing through that much punishment.

Ferguson was never really able to find a groove and employ his unorthodox strategy, which in large part can be attributed to the menacing power that Gaethje was throwing on every shot. The great Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get hit in the mouth.” This could very well have been the tale for Tony Saturday night. 

Coach Trevor Wittman played zen master for Gaethje amidst the chaos and kept his fighter dialed in on the goal. In order to prolong his fighter’s efficiency, Wittman notably told him to “take 10 percent off” from his strikes, and that message paid dividends as Gaethje defied the odds and took the boogeyman into deep water before referee Herb Dean called a stoppage to the action in the fifth round. 

Co-main event: Henry Cejudo vs Dominick Cruz

In the co-main event of the evening, Henry “Triple C” AKA “The King of Cringe” Cejudo defended his bantamweight title against former champion Dominick Cruz and immediately announced his retirement to Joe Rogan in his post-fight interview. 

Cejudo is the first to ever TKO Cruz, who is known as the bantamweight G.O.A.T. However, the stoppage is not without controversy.

Cejudo perfectly timed a knee to the ducked head of Cruz at the end of the second round, and referee Keith Pederson stopped the fight with two seconds left on the clock. Although Cruz ate close to a dozen strikes unanswered, it is worth noting that Cruz never went out and was in the process of standing up at the time Pederson stepped in.

Cruz also alleges that he asked for a referee swap before the fight due to Pederson smelling of “alcohol and cigarettes.” 

Cruz looked good in his first fight since 2016 (1,226 days to be exact) up to the stoppage, and with the division looking at a vacant title, Cruz may now be in a four-person race with Aljamain Sterling, Petr Yan, and Corey Sandhagen for the title should the 35-year-old decide to continue fighting. 

Francis Ngannou vs Jairzinho Rozenstruik

In Francis Ngannou’s last four fights combined, just take a look at these numbers: 2 minutes, 42 seconds fight time, 34 significant strikes landed, and four knockouts.

The Cameroonian native wasted no time and took just twenty seconds to put Jairzinho Rozenstruik to sleep. Ngannou looked as dangerous as ever and is firmly cemented as the number two contender for the title behind former champion Daniel Cormier. 

Calvin Kattar vs Jeremy Stephens 

Featherweights Calvin Kattar and Jeremy Stephens let their fists fly in a furious flurry. Kattar floored Stephens with a rear-side elbow and finished him with a vicious ground and pound sequence that left Stephens with a large gash on his forehead. The TKO stoppage marked Kattar’s fourth finish since signing to the UFC in 2017.

Stephens missed weight ahead of the fight, but it had no barring as Kattar handed the veteran his fourth consecutive loss.

Greg Hardy vs Yorgan De Castro 

Former NFL Pro Bowler and ever-controversial figure Greg Hardy once again proved to be somewhat of an enigma.

Hardy is a fighter in which I feel like I learn something, yet I learn nothing from each outing.

Yorgan De Castro found success against Hardy to start the fight and was doing a great job chopping away at Hardy’s leg until he appeared to injure his foot. De Castro shook his foot awkwardly at one point during the fight, and that was about the last of the offense we saw from him, enabling Hardy to win via unanimous decision. 

Anthony “Showtime” Pettis vs Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone

In a fight that could have very easily been a main event on any other card, the Anthony “Showtime” Pettis and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone rematch closed the show on the ESPN prelims.

Pettis captured the unanimous decision victory over Cerrone in a fight that saw action all the way until the final bell. The decision from the judges contradicted the MMA Fighting Twitter poll. 61 percent of the voters worldwide had the fight in favor of Cerrone. 

The loss marked the fourth in a row for the fan-favorite in Cerrone. 

Aleksei Oleinik vs Fabricio Werdum

42-year-old heavyweight Aleksei Oleinik looked in top form against 42-year-old former UFC champion Fabricio Werdum, who looked like he did not miss a meal during his suspension for a USADA violation.

Oleinik outstruck Werdum at a rate of 94 to 53 significant strikes, with 149 total strikes landed in his split decision victory.

Carla Esparza vs Michelle Waterson

In the only women’s fight of the evening, Carla Esparza nabbed the split decision win over Michelle Waterson. However, that did not come without controversy.

All three judges saw the fight differently, with scorecards reading 30-27 Esparza, 30-27 Waterson, 29-28 Esparza. Waterson was visibly shocked when the official decision was announced.

This was an extremely close fight that could’ve gone either way, however, to have two 30-27 cards in opposite directions is just unacceptable.

At the same time, it feels good to be somewhat back to normal and second-guessing judges’ decisions again. 

Esparza noted in her post-fight scrum that she could hear the commentary from commentator Daniel Cormier and made adjustments to her gameplan based on his dialogue. This is something that the UFC may need to look into and address in relation to the acoustics of the events for these crowdless shows going forward.

Vicente Luque vs Niko Price 

Brazilian welterweight Vicente Luque is starting to rack up a resume of opponent’s faces similar to Tony Ferguson’s after his TKO victory against Niko Price.

Luque famously left Mike Perry’s nose looking like a zig-zag shape after their slugfest last summer, and he left Price’s face looking like roadkill that got ran over another ten times as he could not even open his eye. The left hook from Luque is definitely a problem for anyone that faces him.

Bryce Mitchell vs Charles Rosa

Reebok, can you please get Bryce Mitchell some camo shorts? The undefeated “Thug Nasty” Mitchell put on a grappling clinic and dominated the blackbelt Charles Rosa in a bout that had one judge score it 30-24.

Mitchell looked like a ground wizard with his top game control and seamlessly transitioned from submission attempt to submission attempt, most notably attacking arm triangles and the infamous Twister. Mitchell is one of only two people ever to finish a UFC fight with the Twister submission, and no one has done it twice. 

Sam Alvey vs Ryan Spann

In the curtain puller, you have to tip your hat and give Sam Alvey some respect. The 34-year-old journeyman made the walk to the cage for the 47th time as a professional against surging light heavyweight prospect, 28-year-old Ryan Spann.

The former LFA champion, Spann, walked away with the Split Decision.

Spann nearly submitted Alvey in the early goings of the first round with a standing arm triangle, but Alvey found a way to survive and made it through the round. Spann may have emptied the tank on the submission attempt, as he was visibly exhausted by the third round and left Alvey the room to make his case for the win in at least one judge’s perception. 

Spann is currently 4-0 since signing to the UFC by way of the Contender Series and is tied for the longest active winning streak in the division with champion Jon Jones and Magomed Ankalaev. 

Up next: 

The UFC returns Wednesday with UFC Fight Night: Smith vs Texeira for a showdown of light heavyweight contenders.

#3 Anthony “Lionheart” Smith of Englewood’s Factory X returns to action after a nearly year-long layoff to repair his body and heal up from previous injuries that occurred en route to his meteoric rise in the 205 lb. division.

-Jordan Kurtz is a founding member of Comments From The Peanut Gallery and The MMA Plug and can be followed on Instagram at @CommentsFromThePeanutGallery and @TheMMAPlug303. Be sure to check out the new MMA Plug website @ TheMMAPlug.com