Inside an enviornment with no followers, UFC 249 made loads of noise Saturday night time.

The blended martial arts promotion hosted the primary main dwell sporting occasion in America for the reason that COVID-19 pandemic took maintain of the nation in mid-March.

The night time included one new champion, one retiring champion, one congratulatory video from President Donald Trump, loads of declarations of happiness on social media, and two combatants who found a singular option to make in-fight changes.

However the loudest assertion of the night time contained in the VyStar Veterans Memorial Enviornment in Jacksonville, Florida, belonged to Justin Gaethje. He battered Tony Ferguson with left hooks for four-plus rounds to win the interim light-weight title. Florida hasn’t heard leather-based pop that loud regularly since bullpen classes in spring coaching in February.

“I’m a showoff, I understand how many individuals had been watching and it makes me pleased figuring out how good I made individuals really feel, that feels nice,” mentioned Gaethje (22-2, 5-2 UFC), who additionally earned efficiency and battle of the night time bonuses. “It’s pure exhilaration, simply screaming. Not simply on this nation, however everywhere in the world.”

Gaethje ended Ferguson’s 12-fight win streak and set himself up for a title unification bout towards reigning undefeated champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, who initially had been scheduled to battle Ferguson at UFC 249 in Brooklyn on April 18 earlier than the pandemic. Shortly after UFC president Dana White wrapped the interim title round Gaethje’s waist, the fighter took it off and tossed it to the aspect. 

“Watch for the true one,” he mentioned within the octagon.

“I can’t consider myself because the champion as a result of for one I’m not, and for 2, Khabib remains to be there,” he mentioned throughout his information convention afterward.

White by no means wavered about retaining fights going, whilst state athletic commissions, governors and different officers issued bans on occasions and enormous gatherings. 

The UFC devised a well being and security operations guide, which the Florida fee accepted and led to UFC 249 being the primary of three battle playing cards in eight days in Jacksonville. The protocol recognized Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and two cornermen as testing constructive for COVID-19 regardless of being asymptomatic.

“The entire world is bizarre proper now. Every thing’s bizarre. This occasion’s bizarre,” White mentioned. “It is totally different. We dwell in a distinct world than we did two months in the past. The underside line is the system labored. What you do not need to do is 2 days after the battle say, ‘Awe, Jacare examined constructive.’ So it labored. The system labored that we put in place.

“The longer this goes, the higher the testing know-how’s going to get and the sooner it should get. We’ll show by subsequent Saturday that skilled sports activities can come again safely.”

Henry Cejudo defended his bantamweight title by stopping Dominick Cruz with two seconds remaining within the second spherical. Cejudo landed a knee that dropped Cruz then adopted up with strikes. Cruz was working his manner again to his toes when the referee stopped the bout, inflicting the previous champion to voice his displeasure with the referee.

Cejudo, a former Olympic gold medalist wrestler and UFC flyweight champion, introduced his retirement from MMA after the bout. However on this sport, as with boxing, retirements typically are appeared upon with disbelief. Will Cejudo (16-2) return? Was it a negotiating ploy for larger paydays?

“I actually do need to stroll away, however cash talks,” mentioned Cejudo, 33. “It will get stagnant. I need to depart on high.”

The empty enviornment, from a viewing standpoint, wasn’t all that distinctive for avid followers who’ve seen their share of “Final Fighter” and “Contender Sequence” bouts. The principle distinction with UFC 249 is that you simply already knew all of the fighters’ names.

However, it did provide followers an enhanced audio expertise to listen to the sound of each punch, fighters speaking to one another and their cornermen and referees conferring with docs. It additionally allowed for the fighters to listen to what the announcers — every at their very own desk about 10-12 toes aside — had been saying throughout their fights. Two fighters, heavyweight Greg Hardy and strawweight Carla Esparza, admitted making changes based mostly what they overheard.

“Thank God for not having the gang,” Hardy mentioned after his unanimous resolution win over Yorgan de Castro. advised Joe Rogan in his post-fight interview. “Shout out to DC [Daniel Cormier]. I heard him inform me to test [the leg kicks], so I began attempting to test ’em. Recreation changer.”

“He was sort of criticizing me and half of me was like, ‘Hey, that is tousled, why are you saying that?'” mentioned Esparza, who gained a break up resolution over Michelle Waterson. “However I used to be like that is truly a good suggestion. He was like, ‘She’s simply placing’ or ‘She’s simply going for the takedown, she wants to combine it up.’ I am like, ‘All proper, all proper.’ I made some changes in there. It is loopy, you had been undoubtedly capable of actually hear them in there.”