Photo via Jeff Bottari/Getty Images
Eight weeks. 56 days.
That was how long it had been since a major pro sports organization held a live sporting event. Saturday night, that ended as the UFC returned with a pay-per-view event that delivered exactly what sports fans were craving: hours of high-octane thrills and entertainment.
Even without tens of thousands of fans in the stands, the 22 fighters all delivered performances that made the event feel no different than it would with a sold-out crowd. The interesting aspect of a silent arena are the natural sounds that you wouldn’t hear otherwise. The gasps for air from the fighters, the slaps of leg-to-leg contact, and the feeling of pain a viewer can sense with every punch being landed on screen.
The co-headlining championship fights played out how many fight fans expected, but the end results were nothing short of expected.
Henry Cejudo def. Dominick Cruz to retain UFC Bantamweight Championship
The former bantamweight champ’s fancy footwork and awkward striking technique was on display once again, with Cruz being able to land significant strikes that would catch Cejudo’s attention. However, that would end late in the second round as Cejudo would catch Cruz with a knee to the head and drop Cruz to the mat. Cejudo would land subsequent strikes that would force referee Keith Peterson to stop the fight. Cruz showed and voiced his frustrations with the stoppage. It was the first time Cruz had been finished by a knockout or technical knockout.
In his Octagon interview with Joe Rogan, Cejudo shockingly announced his retirement from mixed martial arts. The 33-year-old walks away from his fighting career on top as the UFC Bantamweight and Flyweight champion. He finishes with a 16-2 record to go alongside a Hall of Fame wrestling career that includes an Olympic gold medal.
Justin Gaethje def. Tony Ferguson to win UFC Interim Lightweight Championship
The fight was as advertised and more.
Gaethje and Ferguson put on a masterclass of a fight that will be remembered for a long time. Both men went blow-for-blow in the early rounds, and Ferguson was even able to plant Gaethje on his back to close the second round. By the third round however, it would become a striking clinic for Gaethje. Ferguson became Gaethje’s punching bag as he would eat heavy shot after heavy shot in the final rounds. According to the UFC, Gaethje landed 73% of his significant strikes. While Ferguson showed incredible and ovation-worthy heart, the punches would become too much as Gaethje landed a clean strike in the fifth that stunned Ferguson, and referee Herb Dean had seen enough.
Gaethje ends any hopes of the dream fight between Ferguson and current lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, but he will be a game-enough opponent for Khabib with his vicious striking and a solid wrestling game.
Ferguson’s 12-fight win streak came to an end tonight, but the 36-year-old told Rogan in his Octagon interview that he will be ready to get back to fighting whenever he is medically cleared.
The UFC Lightweight Championship fight is official: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje
Francis Ngannou going up against undefeated Jairzinho Rozenstruik was expected to deliver fireworks, and it did as Ngannou wiped out Rozenstruik with a brutal left hand in a wild standing exchange. In Ngannou’s four-fight win streak, all of them have come by KO/TKO and have finished in a combined time of 2 minutes and 42 seconds.
Calvin Kattar continued his ascent up the featherweight ranks with a gruesome pair of elbows that would put Jeremy Stephens away and leave him with a nasty cut.
Early on in the prelims, Vicente Luque and Niko Price delivered one of the best fights of the night in which both men engaged in wild exchanges. Luque would be able to shut Price’s eye with an ugly bruise that would force doctor’s to stop the fight.
Tonight is exactly what the sports world needed, and the perfect way to kickoff a slight return to normalcy.
The UFC makes a quick return to the Octagon on Wednesday with an entire card on ESPN headlined by a light-heavyweight showdown between Anthony Smith and Glover Teixeira.