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Ryan Hall breaks down ‘magic happy land’ fight between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje at UFC 249

When featherweight contender Ryan Hall looks at the UFC 249 main event between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje, he’s as excited as the rest of us.

The highly-anticipated interim lightweight title fight takes place on Saturday at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla., behind closed doors.

Like most fans of the sport, Hall has a short list of fights he considers must-watch television. For The Ultimate Fighter 22 winner and acclaimed Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Ferguson versus Gaethje checks all the boxes.

“If you could make one of my magic happy land fights, this is obviously going to be one of those,” Hall told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck. “I’m a big Gaethje fan and I’m a big fan of Tony Ferguson.”

Ferguson enters the fight tied with undisputed lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov for the longest active win streak in the UFC at 12. “El Cucuy” doesn’t consider the fight an “interim” title fight, but rather his third title defense since submitting Kevin Lee in the third round of the UFC 226 main event in October 2017.

Hall, who’s unbeaten in four octagon appearances, sees the dangers Ferguson brings into all of his fights, UFC 249 included.

“Tony’s ability in scrappiness, playing off of his back, he’s long and he’s creative and, in certain regards, is a little wild, and that makes him such a wild card,” Hall said. “I still remember this picture that was going around and it showed the faces of all of the people that have fought Tony Ferguson in the last while and you go, ‘Holy moly. They look like they’ve been in a slasher film.’

“It’s not like it is not a tough group of people. Tony can sometimes absorb some damage as well, but I think one of the things that makes him so offensively dynamic is that he is out there. You can find him and you can hit him a little bit, but at the same time, when he gets going, he’s overwhelmingly offensively effective. He’s dangerous from all positions, always attacking, always moving and obviously has the heart of a champion.”

After suffering the only two losses of his career to Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, Gaethje has been on a tear. “The Highlight” lived up to his moniker in his three previous fights with first-round finishes of James Vick, Edson Barboza and Donald Cerrone.

While the skill sets may be different, Hall is fascinated with the under-the-radar similarities between the two.

“Gaethje is so similar in that regard,” Hall said. “They just use a different set of tools. He’s obviously physically different. I know that Tony can wrestle pretty well, himself. It’s something that doesn’t come up as often – not in an obvious sense in a lot of his fights.

“Seemingly, Gaethje uses his wrestling more in reverse to stop people from stopping him from Justin Gaethje-ing them. In older fights, I’ve seen highlights of him just launching guys. I think was an All-American, D-1, so you know he can definitely wrestle.”

Currently, Ferguson is a slight favorite over his dangerous counterpart. The winner of the fight likely has a date with Nurmagomedov later this year in a title unifier.

Hall is mum on an official prediction. He approaches the fight with a coin-flip mentality.

“It’s really difficult to pick,” he said. “MMA is such an interesting sport, because there’s so many ways to win and so many ways to lose that it’s so volatile by nature compared to a basketball game or even a boxing match, which is relatively sterile. I think, in a lot of ways, people haven’t really figured out a way to fight MMA in a way that limits that volatility. That’s something Floyd Mayweather has done brilliantly in boxing, and that’s something that doesn’t resonate with the average fan, or even the average competitor.

“We watch [Mayweather’s] method and we watch his success over the years and think, ‘Oh, man, there’s obviously something to this Floyd guy.’ When he gets touched, or when he gets in trouble, he has the grit of an Arturo Gatti when he needs it. He just turns that on and off.

“This fight [between Ferguson and Gaethje] is unbelievable because both of these guys are there to put you away. I really love 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’re like, ‘I’m gonna get you, I’m gonna knock you out and you can never knock me out,’ and he doesn’t say stuff like that. He says, basically, ‘If you don’t knock me out, you’re gonna have a really rough night. But I didn’t say you couldn’t, I just don’t think you can. We’ll find out.’

“I think he’s as mentally tough as anybody out there. He stands behind his words, and he’s an unbelievably entertaining fighter, a super skillful dude. I’m excited as a fan to see this one.”

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