UFC Photo: Safford native Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje, right, will battle Tony Ferguson for the UFC Interim Lightweight Championship on Saturday, May 9 on pay-per-view.
By Jon Johnson
JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA – Safford native No. 4-ranked lightweight Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje (21-2) will headline UFC 249 on Saturday, May 9 in an interim lightweight title bout against the No. 1-ranked lightweight contender Tony Ferguson (25-3).
The fight will take place at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, with preliminary bouts on ESPN, beginning at 3:30 p.m. Arizona time. The prelims will be broadcast on ESPN and ESPN+, starting at 5 p.m., and the main card will be on ESPN+ Pay-Per-View, starting at 7 p.m. There will be no fans in attendance.
The co-main event will feature bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo (15-2) against Dominick Cruz (22-2).
Gaethje, a former all-state Safford Bulldog wrestler and All-American as a wrestler for the University of Northern Colorado, is one of the UFC’s premier knockout specialists and has earned a post-fight bonus in every one of his UFC bouts – including his two losses. In an interview on Instagram Live with ESPN’s Brett Okamoto, UFC President Dana White said the winner of the Gaethje/Ferguson fight will next fight lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0) for the belt.
“Ferguson-Gaethje fight is one of the most violent fights you will ever see,” White said. “I can guarantee that. That that fight is going to be incredible. Both of these guys. Their style. The way they fight. Their mindset. This fight’s unbelievably violent and going to be an incredible fight. Two of the best in the world. And the winner will fight Khabib for the title.”
Ferguson is riding a 12-fight win streak and was originally scheduled to fight Nurmagomedov for the title in UFC 249 but Nurmagomedov pulled out citing he couldn’t get out of Russia during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gaethje then stepped up and agreed to fight Ferguson on short notice as the battle was originally scheduled for April 18, but the fight was postponed due to the pandemic.
The new location is now Florida and the new date is May 9, giving Gaethje a few more weeks of preparation and training.
Before his last fight in September 2019, he spoke about getting a title shot.
“If I get a title shot it will only be because I went through the hardest guys,” Gaethje said in an interview. “Most guys (who) get title shots don’t have to do that.”
Two weeks from today, Gaethje will get his shot to propel himself into a title match against the undefeated champion in his sport’s top organization.
Video: Full interview with Justin Gaethje (@Justin_Gaethje) today, right after wrestling practice in Denver. Talking about on again off again nature of the fights, how confident he is it’ll happen, and much more. https://t.co/SOEFwdsdOj— Brett Okamoto (@bokamotoESPN) April 23, 2020