JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Kicks, punches and grunts echoed through the empty arena. Coaches, commentators and camera clicks resonated like never before. Blood, sweat, swollen eyelids and face masks signaled the return of UFC, the first major sporting event to resume since the coronavirus shuttered much of the country for nearly two months.
UFC 249 ushered in a new look for sports, too. One without fans and amid several safety precautions.
It was definitely different — two fighters adjusted their approaches because of what they heard announcers say — and a welcome reprieve for a sports-craved country that went nearly eight weeks with few live events.
“We did this for you, to bring sports back,” fighter Tony Ferguson told fans following his loss in the main event.
Five hours after President Trump congratulated UFC for restarting the sports world, Justin Gaethje stunned heavily favored Ferguson (26-4) in the finale. Gaethje earned a TKO in the fifth and final round of the headliner that was deemed an interim lightweight title bout. It essentially gives Gaethje (22-2) the right to fight titleholder Khabib Nurmagomedov next. Nurmagomedov was unable to fight this weekend because of travel restrictions.
Gaethje flipped over the top of the cage and back in following the biggest victory of his career. He then screamed repeatedly.
“I want the real one," he said as he threw down the interim belt. “There's no other fight I want right now.”
The stacked card saw 33-year-old Henry Cejudo, with blood gushing from his forehead and running down his chest, defend his bantamweight title against Dominick Cruz and then announce his retirement in the middle of the octagon.