This past weekend, UFC president Dana White announced the official lineups for UFC Fight Night events on May 13 and May 16 in Jacksonville, Florida – which will follow this weekend’s heavily-modified and rescheduled UFC 249 card.
UFC 249 was originally planned to take place on April 18 at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in New York – but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the event was ultimately postponed.
It was moved to May 9 and Dana has announced two more cards as part of the UFC’s aim to resume normal operations despite the COVID-19 outbreak seeing sports suspended worldwide since March. The three events will take place over an eight-day span.
UFC 249: Ferguson vs Gaethje
An interim lightweight title fight between Tony Ferguson (25-3) and Justin Gaethje (21-2) will headline this weekend’s UFC 249 show on May 9 – a pay-per-view event that critics were certainly not expecting.
COVID-19 context: Khabib Nurmagomedov was to face Ferguson in their highly-anticipated title fight, but lockdown rules mean the champion is grounded at home. Gaethje replaces him at short notice and has chance to snatch Tony’s #1 contender spot.
In the co-main event, bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo (15-2) will face two-time bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz (22-2) – who hasn’t fought since Dec. 2016.
Cruz, 35, replaces José Aldo after pulling out on April 8 due to visa issues from his native Brazil – as the event (originally scheduled as UFC 250 main event) was moved to the US.
Elsewhere, Donald Cerrone (36-14) will look to return to winning ways after suffering a 40-second knockout defeat by Conor McGregor in February – he faces Anthony Pettis (22-10) in a compelling bout on the prelims, a rematch seven years in the making.
Lightweight: Tony Ferguson vs Justin Gaethje
Bantamweight: Henry Cejudo (c) vs Dominick Cruz
Heavyweight: Francis Ngannou vs Jairzinho Rozenstruik
Featherweight: Jeremy Stephens vs Calvin Kattar
Heavyweight: Greg Hardy vs Yorgan de Castro
Welterweight: Donald Cerrone vs Anthony Pettis
Heavyweight: Aleksei Oleinik vs Fabricio Werdum
Women’s strawweight: Carla Esparza vs Michelle Waterson
Middleweight: Uriah Hall vs Ronaldo Souza
Welterweight: Vicente Luque vs Niko Price
Featherweight: Bryce Mitchell vs Charles Rosa
Light heavyweight: Ryan Spann vs Sam Alvey
May 13 card – UFC on ESPN: Smith vs Teixeira
A light heavyweight matchup between former title challengers Anthony Smith (33-14) and Glover Teixeira (30-7) will headline UFC’s Fight Night on May 13.
COVID-19 context: Smith-Teixeira was originally scheduled for April 25 in Nebraska.
In what promises to be an intriguing watch, White previewed the card’s main event matchup: “He’s [Smith] coming off a win over [Alexander Gustafsson], coming off a win over the dude that broke into his house – he’s had a very interesting time off. Great fight, great main event with two tough, durable guys. Looking forward to that one.”
Ray Borg (13-4), Ovince Saint Preux (24-13), Michael Johnson (19-15) and former heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski (28-19, 2 NC) are among the notable fighters who are set to feature – in an event packed with four preliminary bouts before the main card.
Light heavyweight main event: Anthony Smith vs Glover Teixeira
Heavyweight: Ben Rothwell vs Ovince Saint Preux
Lightweight: Alexander Hernandez vs Drew Dober
Bantamweight: Ricky Simon vs Ray Borg
Middleweight bout: Karl Roberson vs Marvin Vettori
Heavyweight: Andrei Arlovski vs Philipe Lins
LIghtweight: Michael Johnson vs Thiago Moises
Women’s bantamweight: Sijara Eubanks vs Sarah Moras
Featherweight: Hunter Azure vs Brian Kelleher
What about weight cuts?
Saint Preux (light-heavy to heavyweight) and Edson Barboza (lightweight to featherweight) are just two fighters who are changing weight classes for these events.
However, White has maintained his preference for fighters to stick to their typical weight class, particularly during this pandemic.
“Guys who don’t want to cut weight right now, they feel like it’s tough because they can’t have the typical type of camp they would have, with tons of people — a real hardcore training camp — because gyms aren’t really open. I told those guys not to fight now.
“But if you feel that you can train properly, and you feel that you can cut the weight, I prefer to have your fights in the right weight class, meaning not a catchweight fight.”
Dana also confirmed last month that all three May events will take place without a live audience in attendance, having been forced to postpone a total of six events. Despite this, the 50-year-old’s determination to ensure the UFC are the first major sports organisation to return while still holding its entire 42-event schedule in 2020 is impressive.
Bellator MMA has postponed their schedule through June, while the Professional Fighters League, a tournament-based promotion, suspended its entire 2020 season.
May 16 – UFC on ESPN: Overeem vs Harris
For the third and final card planned this month, former title challenger Alistair Overeem (45-18) faces Walt Harris (13-7) in an eagerly-anticipated heavyweight bout – one that was scheduled to take place before Christmas last year.
Harris, unbeaten in his last four fights, pulled out of contention a month before the encounter due to the ongoing search to find his missing stepdaughter Aniah Blanchard.
The fight was postponed, then moved to May 16 and will now headline an event which also features former strawweight challenger Claudia Gadelha (17-4) and the aforementioned Barboza – he’s won just one of his last five fights, spanning three years.
Heavyweight main event: Alistair Overeem vs Waalt Harris
Women’s strawweight: Claudia Gadelha vs Angela Hill
Featherweight: Dan Ige vs Edson Barboza
Middleweight: Eryk Anders vs Krzysztof Jotko
Featherweight: Song Yadong vs Marlon Vera
Middleweight: Anthony Hernandez vs Kevin Holland
Featherweight: Mike Davis vs Giga Chikadze
Women’s flyweight: Cortney Casey vs Mara Romero Borella
Featherweight: Darren Elkins vs Nate Landwehr
Heavyweight: Rodrigo Nascimento vs Don’Tale Maye
UFC 251 scheduled for Perth, postponed
Elsewhere in company news, the UFC 251 event – originally slated for June 7, has been postponed as a result of government restrictions.
Given logistical issues presented by the pandemic, staging any shows outside the US is highly unlikely for the foreseeable future.