Almost two months since its last event, the UFC is ready to bounce back with a bang.
The world's leading mixed martial arts promotion are set to run the first of three events in the space of just eight days in Jacksonville, Florida.
UFC 249 had originally been scheduled to take place on April 18 in Brooklyn, New York, but the coronavirus outbreak forced that venue off the schedule.
The UFC then looked to run the event on the same date on tribal land in Lemoore, California to circumvent the government shutdown in the state, but pressure from senior execs from broadcast partners ESPN – and the sports channel's parent company Disney – promoted an 11th-hour rethink.
Now the pay-per-view event is set to take place behind closed doors in Jacksonville under full state regulation.
Fighters, coaches and staffers will undergo Covid-19 tests and a host of additional safety measures will be in place for the show, which represents the first major sporting event to take place in the United States since the coronavirus outbreak.
The event itself boasts a fight card jam-packed with fighting talent, with two title fights featured at the top of the card.
The main event, a battle for the vacant UFC interim lightweight title, will see former interim champ Tony Ferguson and former World Series of Fighting champ Justin Gaethje go head-to-head in a fight between two of the most entertaining fighters on the entire roster.
Ferguson was originally set to face undisputed champion Khabib Nurmagomedov on the original April 18 show in Brooklyn, but the advent of the coronavirus put paid to that booking, and extended the apparent jinx surrounding their matchup.
The pair have been booked to fight five times, and five times the fight has fallen through.
With Nurmagomedov currently stuck in Dagestan due to travel restrictions in Russia, the UFC turned to Gaethje to step in and face Ferguson, with the promotion introducing an interim title into the bargain.
Now Ferguson, owner of the longest win streak in the UFC's lightweight division (12 fights), will take on Gaethje, who is renowned as one of the most destructive, exciting fighters in any weight class.
It's a match-up that is absolutely tailor made for an event such as this, as the UFC looks to make an impact on its first show back on TV following the global pandemic struck.
Ready to inspire
The two main event stars say they're inspired by the opportunity to step into the octagon and switch the world back on to live sports once again.
"This is awesome," Ferguson told reporters during a pre-fight conference call.
"I mean, you can hear it in both of our voices, dude. You know, when there are wars going on and everything else there was no sports – they only had the Olympics going on.
"Right now there is no Olympics. There is no Wimbledon ... there is no tennis, there is no soccer, hockey, there is no baseball. This what we bring to the table and we are going out there and do our best and we are going to keep sports alive."
"Yes, this is going to bring a sense of normalcy to people. And you know I'm proud to be a part of it," agreed Gaethje.
"You know, the opportunity to inspire. People need to be inspired right now. They need to not let themselves become depressed, emotional because they can't control what is going on right now.
"We have got to ride it through and they need to be inspired in a way and we can do that. We have the opportunity."
Gaethje also revealed he hoped to pick up another victory on fight night – by getting some essential repairs covered by the UFC.
“I need my nose broken,” he said. "I haven’t been able to breathe through my nose for like 12 years since wrestling. So hopefully one of those elbows cracks my nose – the UFC has to pay for that!"
Gold versus GOAT
The co-main event also features a title fight, as Olympic gold medalist former UFC flyweight champion and reigning, defending UFC bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo puts his title on the line against arguably the greatest bantamweight fighter in UFC history, two-time former champion Dominick Cruz.
Cruz has battled a series of crippling injuries that have cost him years of his fighting prime, but his ability to bounce back from lengthy layoffs and return to the top was proven when he won the bantamweight title for the second time in 2016.
Now, after the longest layoff of his career – almost three and a half years – Cruz returns to take on one of the sport's best pound-for-pound athletes.
Reigning champion Cejudo captured Olympic wrestling gold for the United States in 2008 in Beijing, and transitioned to mixed martial arts five years later.
Cejudo went on to eventually dethrone the great Demetrious Johnson and capture the UFC flyweight title, then moved up and claimed the bantamweight belt with a superb come-from-behind win over Marlon Moraes last year.
Now focusing on life at 135 pounds after relinquishing the flyweight belt, Cejudo wants to cement his legacy by defeating the man considered by many to be the greatest bantamweight of all time.
UFC 249 is available for fans in the UAE to watch via the UFC Arabia app. The main card kicks off at 6am, Sunday May 10.