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The UFC returned last Saturday and it virtually saved the combat sports starved masses.
After several Coronavirus-forced delays, UFC 249 took place at the Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida without fans. It featured two title fights: Henry Cejudo defended his bantamweight crown by defeating the former champion, Dominick Cruz, then retired from the sport.
In the main event, Justin Gaethje took the lightweight crown by finishing Tony Ferguson and becoming the interim UFC lightweight champion. This was a major upset as Ferguson was the betting favorite going in and his original opponent was current lightweight champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov.
However, even without an audience, the event delivered, much to the delight of fight fans. It also re-lit the fight fire under Conor McGregor. The Irishman took notice of Justin Gaethje’s spectacular performance and decided to goad him into a battle.
Justin, there is no danger in a man that hugs legs, we all know. Try and dance around what the real threat is here all you want.
I am going to fucking butcher you.
Your teeth. I’m going to put them on a fucking necklace.
Speak on my skills as a father?
You are fucking dead.
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) May 11, 2020
Nurmagomedov is stuck in his native Russia due to travel restrictions to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.
Although Dana White confirmed after UFC 249 that Gaethje and Nurmagomedov would unify next, McGregor is looking to shift the energy his way. Knowing that McGregor has his own unofficial set of rules within the UFC, the possibility of this happening is definitely 50%.
Without me this whole ship sink.
Never forget that! #BigYachtsy
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) May 13, 2020
However, the bigger impact is that combat sports is back and fighters are agitated by each other. This is when you know we are getting back to a safe space in the fight culture. When fighters begin starting problems to get a match made, life is good.
BACK ALREADY! 👏
— UFC (@ufc) May 13, 2020
Wednesday, tonight, the second iteration of the UFC return takes place back in Jacksonville as they have commandeered the venue for three straight shows. Tonight’s event is one to bolster the UFC light heavyweight ranks and features a main event showdown between Anthony Smith and Glover Texiera.
This is a direct attempt at keeping continuity for current light heavyweight champ, Jon Jones.
In addition, the third event is this Saturday featuring a heavyweight showdown between Walt Harris and the legend Alistair Overeem.
I got the chance to talk to Walt Harris as he readies for his Saturday #UFCJAX main event. We discussed what it took for him to continue fighting following the tragic loss of step-daughter Aniah Blanchard. Thank you so much for the time, @thebigticket205! #UFCJacksonville https://t.co/E51ouB9FLh
— Tom Albano (@thomasjalbano) May 13, 2020
Harris’ step-daughter Aniah Blanchard went missing in October 2019 and was later discovered killed. This has fueled Harris’ take-no-prisoners attitude and he feels he has a lot to prove.
However, Overeem is a living legend that is a global Dutch kickboxing and MMA star. His last outing in December 2019, led to a horrific fifth-round knockout by Jairzinho Rozenstruik and a dramatic split lip. He will undoubtedly be on the rampage to turn his last loss around.
The UFC took a risk by becoming the first organization to bring back fights. Even though we are still in the infancy of sports’ return, the UFC has given us all something to look forward to.