By Jon Rico
Tony Ferguson vs Justin Gaethje-Interim UFC Lightweight Championship The road to the UFC Lightweight Championship has been quite the rollercoaster ride for Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson. On a 12-fight win streak over the last 7+ years, Ferguson looks to add a thirteenth name to that list when he defends his UFC Interim championship against heavy power puncher Justin Gaethje. Known for being one of the most exciting fighters in the entire sport, Gaethje’s style not only presents the potential for an amazing fight but also possibly the biggest threat to Tony’s shot at being a UFC Champion. Coming off three first-round knockout victories, one has to wonder if Gaethje’s devastating finishing abilities will be enough to stop the vicious pace of Tony Ferguson, who mixes up striking and grappling transitions in ways nobody else in the division is capable of doing. Will Ferguson keep the streak alive on his way to the inevitable showdown with current champion Khabib Nurmagomedov?
Henry Cejudo vs Dominick Cruz-UFC Bantamweight Championship The current king of the UFC Bantamweight takes on the former king of the division as Henry Cejudo defends his championship title against the returning Dominick Cruz in the UFC 249 co-main event. Cruz will enter the cage on fight night for the first time in over three years, last losing the title to Cody Garbrandt by unanimous decision. In that time away, Henry Cejudo went on to win titles in two divisions, starting by dethroning Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson for the UFC Flyweight Championship in 2018. He would follow that up with a knockout win over TJ for the UFC Bantamweight Championship in early 2019. Following a defense against Marlon Moraes almost a year ago, Cejudo returns to defend the title against arguably the greatest champion in the history of the division. Can Dominick Cruz prove once again that “ring rust isn’t real”? Or will Henry Cejudo solidify his status as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world with a win over Cruz?
Fabricio Werdum vs Alexsei Oleinik Grappling fans rejoice! Two of the heavyweight divisions most elite submission artists meet in a highly anticipated bout on the prelims airing on ESPN. Former UFC Heavyweight Champion Fabricio Werdum returns from a long layoff due to a USADA suspension looking to establish his spot in the top tier of the division. A veteran of over 70 fights, Oleinik has 46 wins via submission with the sneaky ability to lock in chokes from unique positions. He’ll undoubtedly be going against the most skilled grappler of his fighting career, as Werdum,multiple time Brazilian Jiu Jitsu champion going back as far as the year 2000. Along with elite level grappling, the former UFC champion is also a black belt in Muay Thai under Master Rafael Cordeiro at Kings MMA. Being that I train at Kings, my reasoning for making the list is quite obvious. But bias aside, this is truly one of the better matchups with a win for either man being very crucial for their futures as top-ranked fighters.
Francis Ngannou vs Jairzinho Rozenstrui In what is surely one of the more violent matchups on the card, two of the most powerful strikers in the heavyweight division meet in a fight to possibly determine the #1 contender for the UFC Heavyweight Championship. Francis Ngannou has his eyes on another shot at the UFC Heavyweight Championship, but in order to get there, hehas to get by the division’s newest contender in Jairzinho Reozenstruik. The Surinamese fighter quickly rose to prominence after an active debut year in the UFC, going 4-0 with four knockouts over names like Andrei Arlovski and Alistair Overeem. When the championship rematch between Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier was announced, Ngannou was left with no challengers to his claim as #1 contender until Rozenstruik stepped up to the task. Fans will no doubt be on the edge of their seats when these two step into the octagon on Saturday.
Carla Esparza vs Michelle Waterson Two former Invicta FC champions meet for the first time in one of the best and more under-looked fights on the card. A classic style clash of grappler vs striker, Carla Esparza vs Michelle Waterson will face each other in a fight where the winner could have a shot at being a potential title contender with another win or two. Esparza, the first-ever UFC Strawweight champion, is currently on a two-fight win streak with wins over Virna Jandiroba and Alexa Grasso. Waterson is coming off a decision loss to former champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk. Before that, she was on a three-fight win streak. The matchup of Esparza’s wrestling abilities against Waterson’s karate-style striking and submission abilities off her back make this one of the most intriguing fights of the card.