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The long, winding road to UFC 249 leads to a night that promises to be special

Tony Ferguson is shown at a weigh-in in October 2018 for UFC 229.
Tony Ferguson, shown in October 2018, has 12 consecutive wins and will take on Justin Gaethje in the main event at UFC 249 on Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla.
(Ethan Miller/ Getty Images)

The first UFC event took place Nov. 12, 1993, at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver. The location was chosen because Colorado had no state boxing commission and allowed the fledgling mixed martial arts company to advertise the event under the slogan, “There are no rules!”

UFC 249, which will take place Saturday at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla., without fans, will be arguably the most unique pay-per-view event the promotion has staged. This will be the first UFC event in nearly two months and first pay-per-view since March 7.

The location was chosen out of necessity. As many states continue stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, Florida has deemed professional sports, including professional wrestling, “essential services,” and Jacksonville mayor Lenny Curry this week announced he would relax outdoor capacity restrictions for all restaurants and retailers.

Dana White is staging UFC 249 on Saturday night in Florida. It will be the first live major professional sports event in the U.S. in nearly two months.

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Originally, UFC 249 was to be held at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on April 18. It was moved to the Tachi Palace Casino Resort, which sits on tribal land about 40 miles south of Fresno, in order to circumvent state regulations. UFC president Dana White finally postponed the event after pressure from the Walt Disney Company and ESPN, which entered into a five-year, $1.5-billion broadcast deal with UFC two years ago.

The main event between interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje figures to be a fight-of-the-year candidate if their track record is any indication. Ferguson has 12 consecutive victories, tying him with lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, his originally scheduled opponent, for the longest active streak. Gaethje has never had a UFC fight in which he did not earn a bonus for the fight or performance of the night.

“I can’t stop thinking about and talking about the main event,” White said. “I can absolutely guarantee you that this fight will deliver.”

When the Rams debut in SoFi Stadium, will the 70,240-seat stadium be filled with fans, empty or somewhere in between? Ticket holders are anxious to know.

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The co-main event will feature bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo, who hasn’t lost since 2016, facing Dominick Cruz, a two-time bantamweight champion who will be stepping into the octagon for the first time since Dec. 30, 2016.

Francis Ngannou, second in the heavyweight rankings, will try to put himself in line for a championship fight when he takes on Jairzinho Rozenstruik, who holds the record for second-fastest knockout in the division. Former NFL Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy, who signed with the UFC two years ago, will make his pay-per-view debut on the main card when he faces Yorgan de Castro.

The event also will feature Jeremy Stephens against featherweight Calvin Kattar. Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone is headlining the preliminary card when he takes on Anthony Pettis.

Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza tests positive for COVID-19

One fighter who will be absent from UFC 249 is Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, who tested positive for COVID-19. His fight with Uriah Hall was called off Friday night. Souza showed up in Jacksonville and found out a relative tested positive. Souza was quarantined, tested and removed from the card. The remainder of the show will go on.

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Late Friday, UFC released a statement that read in part:

“The middleweight bout between Uriah Hall vs Jacare Souza will no longer be on the UFC 249 preliminary card due to one of Souza’s COVID-19 tests indicating a positive result. In addition, COVID-19 tests for Souza’s two cornermen were also flagged as positive. UFC’s medical team examined Souza and his two cornermen and found them to be currently asymptomatic, or not exhibiting the common symptoms of COVID-19. As per UFC’s health and safety protocols, all three men have left the host hotel and will be self-isolating off premises, where UFC’s medical team will monitor their conditions remotely and will provide assistance with any necessary treatment.

“From their arrival earlier in the week until their departure today, Souza and his cornermen followed UFC health and safety protocols, including practicing social distancing, wearing personnel protective equipment, and self-isolating whenever possible.

“There have been no other positive COVID-19 tests reported from the remaining athletes participating in UFC 249.”


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