Justin Gaethje just put on a thrilling show per usual, but he did it on the biggest stage yet and is quickly establishing himself as a must see contender in the UFC lightweight division.
Humbly admitting the possibility of finding himself on the wrong side of a knockout before the fight, we saw Gaethje get rocked numerous times and it seemed like he was headed for a loss at time, but he managed to remain on his feet and recover on multiple occasions. As he stated in his post fight interview, octagon jitters were certainly not present, instead the same “Highlight” was on full display against a very game Michael Johnson. We saw the pressure Geathje said he’d bring, we saw the heavy leg kicks that forced Johnson to willingly lay on his back in hopes of avoiding further damage, we saw Gaethje get rocked the way he does in almost all his fights, but more importantly, we saw his heart overcome the damage leading to a knockout win.
Gaethje’s will is something legends are made of and while Johnson vowed to avoid getting dragged into a brawl, it didn’t take long for Gaethje’s taunts to change the veteran’s mind. It was like Gaethje said, piece by piece he’ll beat Johnson and deep waters is where the fight found itself late in the second round just before Johnson had enough after the non-stop pressure peppered with a mixture of punches and leg kicks.
The aftermath of the TUF season 25 finale featured a call out of Tony Ferguson at the FS1 post fight show and with the overnight success Gaethje just earned himself, why not at least entertain the idea of two strikers who are known for their heart, chins, and forward pressure?
Timing can be a great thing in the UFC, but even better than timing is options. With his hard battled performance now behind him, it’s not clear when we’ll see Gaethje back in the octagon, but when he does return there are names like Edson Barboza and Kevin Lee who appear to be the likeliest of opponents. Gaethje has leg kicks for days as does Barboza and since Barboza already stated that the UFC attempted to book him against Gaethje before he was medically cleared, why not set it up now? Although a bout between Lee and either Barboza or Gaethje would be just as enticing. Either way, an entertaining fight is on the horizon, sadly it appears one man will be left without a dance partner for the time being.
Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov seem destined to be re-booked by the UFC despite the latest fallout at UFC 209, but it’s beginning to lose steam in favor of active UFC lightweights and that still seems to be lost on fighters. While the stocks of Kevin Lee and Gaethje have skyrocketed as of late, Ferguson and Nurmagomedov’s stocks remain the same until they get back to performing.
For now, it was a memorable coming out party for the former World Series of Fighting champion. This was his night and while the performance will likely be overlooked after tonight’s UFC 213 event, it’s clear to see that the lightweight division is moving forward without champion, Conor McGregor, the dicey Nate Diaz and the never-ending will-they-won’t-they narrative between Nurmagomedov and Ferguson. Tonight we got “The highlight.”