In former editions of MMA Junkie’s annual awards, pinpointing the “Event of the Year” typically factored in two important measuring details. To start with, it was very likely to be a blockbuster card, a single that stood out between other playing cards for the sheer sum of buzz bordering the celebration. Next, it necessary to be a card major on leisure benefit.
For all intents and purposes, “UFC 249: Ferguson vs. Gaethje” would have earned to be in the dialogue for those common explanations no make a difference what yr it took spot. But as we all know by now, 2020 was not any other year.
UFC 249 was at first expected to consider put on April 18 at Barclays Middle in Brooklyn, N.Y. The key function was to feature the lengthy-awaited showdown concerning reigning light-weight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and the male he experienced been slated to face 4 situations previously, former interim champ Tony Ferguson. The world, of class, experienced different ideas.
As COVID-19 commenced to unfold swiftly throughout the U.S., New York instituted a ban on significant gatherings, forcing the UFC to scramble. UFC president Dana White was intent on pursuing via with the card in the experience of the difficulties and explained the firm would maintain the event behind shut doors, although he declined to reveal a place.
During the scramble to obtain a new venue, Nurmagomedov was forced to withdraw, citing global journey limits following he still left the U.S. to be with his loved ones in Dagestan.
Even now early in the COVID-19 era and possibly not absolutely realizing the impression the coronavirus would have on us all, the MMA world uncovered humor in the fifth scrapping of a Nurmagomedov-Ferguson showdown being induced by a world-wide pandemic. All was not misplaced, even though, as human emphasize reel Justin Gaethje agreed to move in and face Ferguson for an interim belt in a fight that appeared specified to provide fireworks.
Meanwhile, White and his crew built designs to host the card on tribal land at Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino in Lemoore, Calif. Thanks to local laws, the card would not be beneath the jurisdiction of the California Condition Athletic Fee, a loophole that would allow for the UFC to keep on operations. Nevertheless, outside force from individuals anxious it simply wasn’t protected to keep an MMA function as the earth continued to get an comprehending of COVID-19 ultimately forced the UFC’s broadcast associates at ESPN and mother or father enterprise Disney to inquire White to stand down.
The event was scrapped on April 9.
Virtually two weeks later, UFC officials discovered the fight card had been rescheduled. UFC 249 would just take position on May 9 in Jacksonville, Fla. With Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declaring athletics an necessary assistance, the UFC could function with the whole blessing of local authorities.
Of class, it was an event like none at any time previously held, with intensive COVID-19 tests protocol in place. MMA Junkie documented the overall process, initially-hand. Vacant airports. Nasal swabs. Digital media times. Socially distanced media tables. Temperature checks. Frequent COVID testing.
Sure, it was all to become our new usual more than the remaining seven months of 2020 (and probably nicely into 2021), but at the time, every single new day was a walk into the unidentified. Each individual factor of functioning a live sporting occasion experienced to be reimagined, and the UFC took on the overwhelming process of doing so well before any other qualified sports league.
When we lastly obtained to combat night time, there was a exclusive type of anticipation. For the first time in 8 months, the famed UFC octagon was open for small business.
In a instant I’ll hardly ever neglect as extended as I deal with the activity, Sam Alvey was the very first fighter to wander to the cage that night time. He ditched his standard “Hey, Soul Sister” walkout in favor of the rousing “From Now On” from “The Greatest Showman,” and something about the poetic preference struck a nerve. Alvey slapped fingers with imaginary admirers in the empty VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena and pointed to sections in the stands that would commonly maintain cheering supporters.
Was it tacky? Most of what Alvey does outdoors the cage is flavored with a trace of more than-the-top humor. But one thing about that minute felt powerful. Immediately after months of strain and anxiety and wondering about every single aspect of lifestyle, we ended up f-cking back to performing what we appreciate, coronavirus be damned.
The card obtained off to a bit of a shaky get started. Six of the initial 7 fights went to the judges, and 3 of those were offered break up-decision outcomes, but matters picked up on the primary card.
Calvin Kattar’s vicious elbows devastated veteran slugger Jeremy Stephens in a thriller. Francis Ngannou’s 20-2nd destruction of Jairzinho Rozenstruik would have typically introduced a packed arena to a fever pitch. In its place, in complete silence, it felt additional like a criminal offense scene. Henry Cejudo shocked the planet with a next-round end of MMA legend Dominick Cruz and then shocked us all all over again by announcing his retirement (which, potentially just as shockingly, still hasn’t been rescinded – nonetheless).
Then it was time for the night’s main celebration.
Bruce Buffer belted out his introductions with just as much passion as he’s finished with 1000’s of lovers shouting his text proper back at him. Despite the cavernous echo of the fanless location, there was a real electrical energy in the air, the form that only arrives when you know you have unquestionably no notion what’s about to take place future.
Ferguson and Gaethje shipped on all expectations, right from the commence. The rate was high. The aggression was crystal clear. Electricity. Precision. Creativity.
Ferguson was getting injury early, but he smiled just after just about every effective punch scored clean up. The audio of each shot was jarring – audio ordinarily drowned out by the roar of a crowd in a combat of this magnitude. The sheer violence of the exchanges was crystal clear, like probably never ever prior to.
A Ferguson uppercut at the close of the next spherical staggered Gaethje, but “The Highlight” informed his coach, Trevor Wittman, that he was “golden” just before heading back again out in the third and on the lookout as if the punch had in no way landed. The very same could not be reported for Ferguson, whose encounter was protected in blood streaming down from a number of lacerations. Gaethje’s ideal hand scored straight down the pipe, and his remaining hook was equally devastating on a number of occasions.
The momentum was obviously in Gaethje’s favor, even as Ferguson insisted “I come to feel good” in his corner at the shut of the 3rd spherical. “El Cucuy” refused to back down, even as we motored all around the octagon on wobbly legs.
Whilst blood was trickling out of his own mouth, as nicely, Gaethje was in obvious regulate of the fight in the fifth, and he ongoing a tactical, vicious assault. Referee Herb Dean authorized the two warriors to screen their mettle, but as the onslaught continued, he stepped in to help you save a damaged Ferguson at the 3:39 mark of the final frame.
Virtually 500 strikes had been thrown involving the two all-motion fighters.
Gaethje erupted in a series of primal screams right before getting the UFC’s interim light-weight title belt wrapped around his waist – even though he swiftly threw it on the canvas, producing it crystal clear he needed to get the undisputed belt from Nurmagomedov.
“No better drug on earth,” Gaethje instructed UFC commentator Joe Rogan. “Adrenaline coursing as a result of my veins.”
Irrespective of whether or not you considered the UFC ought to have been web hosting functions in Might, there was simply just no denying the greatness of equally Ferguson and Gaethje and the 23 minutes and 39 seconds they permitted us all to end pondering about COVID-19 and just view two of the baddest males on the earth do their detail – and with the eyes of the environment upon them, with a lot-essential enjoyment possibilities in unbelievably short supply.
There will hardly ever be another occasion like UFC 249 – at minimum we all hope not. This was actually a section of sporting record, and it’s MMA Junkie’s 2020 “Event of the Calendar year.”