UFC 249 will go on as planned on April 18, although it will look a little different than originally scheduled, as a heavyweight bout with massive championship implications has been added.
The coronavirus pandemic, which has effectively shut down the sports world, forced the UFC to move the card from Brooklyn, New York, to a location UFC president Dana White isn’t revealing. White, who was adamant this show would go on, did reveal the card’s lineup.
Some of these fights were on the original card. Others were on one of the three cards the UFC canceled from March 28 to April 11. White told ESPN on Monday that once April 18 goes off, the UFC will resume its normal schedule between two locations — one in the U.S. and one on a private island intended to make it easier for fighters who can’t fly into the U.S.
The revamped UFC 249 card features several bouts with long-lasting ramifications. Here are the top four fights to watch and why they’re significant:
Why it’s significant: This is a fight-of-the-decade type of matchup. Yes, we tend to throw hyperbole around, but Gaethje has been involved in multiple fight-of-the-year candidates since coming to the UFC, and as for Ferguson — five of the man’s last six fights have produced fight-of-the-night honors. I think these two have arguably the highest pain thresholds in the entire sport.
Additionally, this bout has major stakes in the UFC’s 155-pound division. The winner will likely fight Khabib Nurmagomedov. The loser could be a candidate for Conor McGregor — or McGregor might wait for the eventual title shot at the end of the year. Either way, Nurmagomedov and McGregor will be closely linked to this fight. It doesn’t get much bigger in this sport.
Why it’s significant: Ngannou deserves a heavyweight title shot now. He deserved one yesterday, honestly. But he’s stuck waiting his turn while the UFC waits to book a trilogy bout between current champion Stipe Miocic, who is still recovering from eye surgery, and Daniel Cormier.
Ngannou and Rozenstruik are arguably the two hardest hitters in the heavyweight division. Ngannou’s last three fights have resulted in knockout wins, and they’ve lasted less than three minutes … combined. Rozenstruik emerged out of nowhere in 2019 with four knockout victories, including a particularly brutal one against Alistair Overeem in December. This is a must-win for Ngannou, and there is virtually zero chance of it going the distance.
If Ngannou wins, he likely would be next in line to face the winner of Miocic vs. Cormier. Miocic is a firefighter and, like all first responders, is busy dealing with the pandemic; if he stays on the shelf indefinitely with the eye injury, it could open up other opportunities for Ngannou, including a possible interim title shot.
Why it’s significant: Nearly one year ago, Namajunas appeared to be on the verge of putting together her best performance as she danced around Andrade in an attempted title defense in Brazil, peppering her with beautifully timed hands and combinations. And then, just like that, Andrade slammed Namajunas on her head and knocked her out three minutes into the second round.
Namajunas’ record is only 8-4. If someone didn’t know, they might think she’s a relatively average fighter. But when Namajunas is on, she has flashes of being arguably the best female fighter in the world. Her potential is still immense, and she’s only 27. But she has talked about leaving the sport early, so we should appreciate her while she still competes. Andrade, who lost the title in her first attempted defense against Zhang Weili, will be looking to get back in the championship picture.
This is a non-title fight, but it has enormous stakes, as Zhang has said she’s looking to give other challengers a shot at her title after her epic decision win over Joanna Jedrzejczyk on March 7. It’s possible the winner of this bout is next in line.
Why it’s significant: The last time we saw Kattar was in enemy territory as he flew to Moscow to face Russian phenom Zabit Magomedsharipov in November. The Bostonian might have come up short in that fight, but he was coming on strong in the later rounds. Kattar is a legitimate threat to win a featherweight championship. Stephens has fallen into a bit of a “gatekeeper” role at 145 pounds, but he is a dangerous gatekeeper. Stylistically, this has fight-of-the-night potential, and you know Stephens is coming motivated, against a younger opponent who a lot of people are currently high on.