For the first time in nearly two months there was an actual live sporting event taking place.
UFC 249 was the first major sporting event to return during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Justin Gaethje defeated Tony Ferguson in an empty arena on Saturday night in Jacksonville, Fla. as part of the main card.
It took Gaethje three minutes, 39 seconds into the fifth round to take down Ferguson with a TKO finish to earn the interim UFC lightweight belt.
The 31-year-old improved to 22-2 overall and has won four straight matches, but tossed the championship belt aside after it was presented to him by UFC president Dana White.
“I’ll wait for the real one,” he said in his post-fight interview in the Octagon.
During Gaethje’s press conference after the fight, he elaborated: “I am proud to hold this belt. It feels good. Not many people in the world, much less fight fighters in the UFC, get to achieve this. So it feels fantastic, and I should enjoy it. But that was the competitor in me. You can never be satisfied. When I get the belt, I want the next one.”
Gaethje and Ferguson combined for 279 strikes, the most ever in a UFC fight in which no strikes on the ground or in the clinch were attempted, and Ferguson took the brunt of it.
In fact, White thought the fight should have been called sooner.
“Tony took a lot of damage tonight,” White said. “Not only did he take a lot of damage, it was from a guy who hits like a f---ing truck, a guy who punches very hard and usually knocks people unconscious when he hits them with those shots.”
Ferguson, 36, fell to 25-3 in his career and the loss snapped a 12-fight winning streak. His last loss came in 2012.
Ferguson was originally supposed to fight UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov on April 18, but coronavirus-related flight restrictions did not allow for Nurmagomedov to travel to the U.S. from Russia and Gaethje was selected to fill-in before it was ultimately postponed.
The UFC decided to keep Gaethje on the main card for the postponed date and White had said that the winner of the card would face Nurmagomedov for the next title shot.
Gaethje said he is looking forward to that.
“I can’t wait to face the challenge,” he said. “That’s why we’re here. He owes it to me to try and kill me, and I owe him the same.”