Justin Gaethje produced a devastating performance to upset Tony Ferguson in the main event at UFC 249. He is now the only fighter in UFC history to earn a fight night bonus in each of his first seven appearances, showing exactly why he is nicknamed The Highlight. It took Gaethje’s UFC record to 5-2, but how did it compare to his previous triumphs? We have ranked his five knockout victories in descending order:
James Vick, UFC Fight Night 135, August 25, 2018
It took Gaethje just 87 seconds to silence trash talking Texan James Vick with a monstrous right hand at UFC 135. Gaethje was initially scheduled to face Al Iaquinta, but he needed a replacement after Iaquinta withdrew from the fight. Vick stepped up and set about bad-mouthing his opponent at every possible opportunity. He repeatedly called Gaethje “the Homer Simpson of MMA”, a clown and a “B-level fighter”.
Gaethje simply kept quiet and then did his talking in the Octagon, obliterating Vick with a supremely controlled performance. It ended a two-fight losing streak – his loss to Dustin Poirier was named fight of the night and his defeat at the hands of Eddie Alvarez was named fight of the year – and sent a message to the rest of the lightweight division: do not make Gaethje angry.
Donald Cerrone, UFC Fight Night 158, September 14, 2019
Gaethje dropped Cowboy with a brutal counter-punch late in the first round of their bout at UFC Fight Night 158. Cerrone staggered back to his feet, and Gaethje dropped him again with several clean strikes. Referee Jerin Valel refused to stop the fight immediately, so Gaethje was forced to keep hitting his hapless opponent and glaring at Valel until the ref finally stepped in and put an end to it.
Fans described the stoppage as horribly late, but Gaethje showed his class by treating Cowboy with respect at the end of the bout. It took his professional record to 22-2 and teed him up for a title shot.
Michael Johnson, The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption Finale, July 7, 2017
Gaethje made a scintillating UFC debut when he took on Michael Johnson at the T-Mobile Arena in Paradise, Nevada. CBS Sports, Forbes, MMA Fighter, Yahoo and many more named it UFC Fight of the Year 2017, praising the momentum shifts and eye-popping sequences that took place over two thrilling rounds. It showed off all of Gaethje’s finest attributes – precise shots, ferocious kicks, fortitude, a lust for trading heavy blows at close range, blistering pace, positive movement, impressive recuperative powers – and turned him into one of UFC’s must-see stars.
Johnson wobbled him with a vicious right uppercut as the first round wound down, but Gaethje wobbled over to his corner and came out smiling again in the second round. He found himself on the brink of defeat again after taking a swift left hand, but Johnson simply could not finish him off. Gaethje dragged himself back into the fight, displaying a solid chin and phenomenal stamina, and ended up winning the bout with a barrage of elbows, punches and kicks followed by knees to the face.
Edson Barboza, UFC on ESPN: Barboza vs Gaethje, March 30, 2019
Gaethje was the underdog for this clash with Brazil’s Edson Barboza, but he made a mockery of those odds by laying waste to his opponent in the first round. The Highlight came flying out of the blocks and traded savage leg kicks with Barboza. Neither man backed down.
They stayed in the pockets, trading heavy shots and maintaining a frenetic pace throughout 150 seconds of non-stop violence. The Brazilian made the mistake of trying to circle left with his guard down, and Gaethje punished him with a devastating right hook. It was another memorable knockout for Gaethje, and definitely one to add to the highlight reel. It was a short, sharp bout, but it was named Fight of the Night and earned Gaethje many more fans.
Tony Ferguson, UFC 249, May 9, 2020
Gaethje saved the best performance of his career to dismantle Ferguson when UFC returned in a blaze of glory this month. Once again, he went into the fight as a massive underdog in the fixed odds betting market, but once again he defied the odds. He was only drafted in as a late replacement for Khabib Nurmagomedov after the Russian was prevented from travelling, and many Ferguson to sweep him aside. Yet Gaethje seized the initiative by scything away with swift kicks to Ferguson’s lead leg, and his counter-punching was superb.
It was the longest fight of Gaethje’s career, and Ferguson deserves some credit for hanging in there for so long, but The Highlight absolutely tore him apart in every round. The lack of a crowd amplified the brutality, and the commentators speculated that Ferguson had broken a record for withstanding so many potentially match-ending shots. The referee ultimately brought it to a close when Gaethje wobbled Ferguson with a left jab to the nose, ending El Cucuy’s 12-fight winning streak and seizing the interim UFC lightweight title. Next up Gaethje will take on Nurmagomedov for the belt, and an entertaining spectacle is all but guaranteed.