When featherweight competitor Ryan Hall watches the main UFC 249 event between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje, he is as excited as all of us.
The long-awaited light interim title fight takes place Saturday at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, behind closed doors.
Like most sports fans, Hall has a short list of fights that he considers must-see television. For the winner of the Ultimate Fighter 22 and the famous black belt of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Ferguson against Gaethje ticks all the boxes.
"If you could do one of my magical happy land fights, it will obviously be one of those," Hall told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck. “I'm a big fan of Gaethje and I'm a big fan of Tony Ferguson.”
Ferguson enters the fight on a par with the undisputed lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov for the longest active winning streak at the UFC at 12. "El Cucuy" does not consider the fight as a fight for the "interim" title, but rather his third title defense since the submission of Kevin Lee in the third round of the main event UFC 226 in October 2017.
Hall, who is undefeated in four octagonal appearances, sees the dangers that Ferguson brings in all of his fights, including UFC 249.
"Tony's ability in scrapping, playing with his back, he's long and he's creative and in some ways is a bit wild, which makes him a joker," said Hall. "I still remember that photo that was spinning and showing the faces of all the people who have fought Tony Ferguson lately and you say," Holy moly. It looks like they were in a slasher movie. "
"It is not as if it is not a difficult group of people. Tony can also sometimes absorb some damage, but I think one of the things that makes him so offensively dynamic is that he is there. You can find it and you can hit it a little, but at the same time, when it gets started, it is extremely offensively effective. He is dangerous from all positions, always on the attack, always on the move and obviously has the heart of a champion. “
After suffering the only two losses of his career against Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, Gaethje is in tears. “The Highlight” has lived up to its nickname in its three previous fights with first round finishes from James Vick, Edson Barboza and Donald Cerrone.
Although the skills may be different, Hall is fascinated by the under-the-radar similarities between the two.
“Gaethje is so similar in this regard,” said Hall. "They just use a different set of tools. It is obviously physically different. I know Tony can very well fight himself. It's something that doesn't come up as often - not in an obvious way in many of his fights.
"Apparently Gaethje is using his upside-down struggle to keep people from preventing Justin Gaethje from them. In older fights, I’ve seen highlights of his guy launch. I think he was an All-American, D-1, so you know he can certainly fight. “
Currently, Ferguson is a slight favorite over his dangerous counterpart. The winner of the fight likely has an appointment with Nurmagomedov later this year in a title unifier.
Hall is a mom on an official prediction. He approaches combat with a coin-flip mentality.
"It is really difficult to choose," he said. "MMA is such an interesting sport because there are so many ways to win and so many ways to lose that it is so volatile in nature that a basketball game or even a boxing match, which is relatively sterile. I think in many ways people haven't really figured out a way to fight MMA in a way that limits this volatility. It's something Floyd Mayweather did brilliantly in boxing, and it's something that doesn't resonate with the average fan, or even with the average competitor.
“We look at [Mayweather’s] method and we watch its success over the years and think,“ Oh, man, there’s obviously something about this Floyd guy. ” When he's hit, or when he's in trouble, he has the grain of an Arturo Gatti when he needs it. He turns it on and off.
"This fight [between Ferguson and Gaethje] is incredible because these two guys are there to keep you out. I really like the way Gaethje approaches the game because - he doesn't say it - but I think a lot of people pretend to be Justin Gaethje, and they aren't. They say, "I'm going to take you, I'm going to knock you out and you can never knock me out", and he doesn't say things like that. He basically says, “If you don't knock me out, you're going to have a really tough night. But I didn't say you couldn't, I don't think you can. We will find out. "
"I think he is as mentally tough as anyone there. He's standing behind his words, and he's an incredibly entertaining fighter, a super clever guy. I'm excited as a fan to see this one. “