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Justin Gaethje's Super Six Fights

Look back at six of Justin Gaethje's best fights before he takes on Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 on April 18

When putting together a list like this for Justin Gaethje, the issue isn’t what to put in, but what to leave out. Luckily, the lightweight division’s premier action hero has had six UFC fights and they’ve all been memorable. So before “The Highlight” returns to face Tony Ferguson for the interim lightweight title in the main event of UFC 249 on April 18, let’s take a look back at how we called each step of his Octagon journey.

2017
Michael Johnson

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The highly-anticipated UFC debut of Justin Gaethje lived up to all expectations and then some Friday night at T-Mobile Arena, as the unbeaten former World Series of Fighting champion stopped lightweight contender Michael Johnson in a wild two-round war that will be hard to top for Fight of the Year honors when December rolls around.

“I love this,” Gaethje said. “You cannot break me, I promise you. Drop me all you want, you better put me to sleep or I’ll be coming for your head, coming for your legs, coming for your body.”

The two began trading immediately, with Johnson briefly staggering Gaethje with a left hand. Gaethje jumped back into the fray, and some hard punches followed by a knee evened the score with “The Menace.” From there, it was Gaethje putting the pressure on while Johnson was forced to fight off his back foot. Both fighters were getting shots in and the crowd was loving it. Midway through the round, a left hook wobbled Johnson, but the St. Louis native kept firing back. Gaethje’s shots had more on them though, and as the Coloradan mixed in leg kicks, he was clearly getting the better of the action. With 30 seconds left, though, a right uppercut rocked Gaethje and know it was Johnson’s turn to seek the finish. He didn’t get it, but it was some end to the round for Johnson.

A right hand in the second minute of round two had Gaethje on the verge of getting stopped once more, but again “The Highlight” weathered the storm and got back into the pocket with Johnson. Gaethje went on to drill Johnson with a knee and several uppercuts with less than 90 seconds left, and Johnson was bloodied and barely able to stand. Finally, with Gaethje still pouring it on, referee John McCarthy intervened, stopping the fight at 4:48 of the second round.

And as soon as it was over, Gaethje was ready for more.

“Who’s next?” he asked. “Where’s my equal at?”

Free Fight: Gaethje vs Johnson
Free Fight: Gaethje vs Johnson
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Eddie Alvarez

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In a fight UFC fans had been waiting for ever since it was announced, Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje delivered the goods and then some, with the former lightweight champion scoring a stirring third-round knockout over Gaethje, who suffered his first pro loss in the process.

Gaethje went after Alvarez’ legs with kicks to start the bout, and while Alvarez fired back with punches well, the kicks were having an effect almost immediately. Switching stances to deal with the kicks, Alvarez’ movement was being compromised and Gaethje just kept marching forward. Alvarez got a flash takedown with just over two minutes left, but Gaethje stood almost as soon as he hit the deck. Late in the round, Alvarez began digging to the body, and he also opened a cut over Gaethje’s left eye, capping off a strong finish for the former champ.

Alvarez had a solid second round, mainly focusing on the body attack that was taking its toll on Gaethje, but “The Underground King” didn’t abandon the head either, adding to his lead. Gaethje was far from finished though, and he barrage of return fire raised a huge swelling on the right side of Alvarez’ face late in the round.

Gaethje staggered Alvarez with another hard kick to the leg early in round three, and the Arizonan kept the heat on the leg as Alvarez attempted to keep his foe at bay with shots to the head. With a little under three minutes left, Alvarez dragged the fight to the mat but he couldn’t keep Gaethje there, and the leg assault continued. In response, Alvarez did his best to close the distance and keep Gaethje from having the room to operate, and as the Philadelphian got his wish, he landed a thudding right knee that sent Gaethje to the canvas. A follow up series of punches from Alvarez finished the job, with referee Herb Dean halting the bout at 3:59 of the third frame.

2018
Dustin Poirier

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There were high expectations for the UFC Glendale main event between Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje, and the two lightweight contenders lived up to all of them on Saturday night, delivering a memorable and thrilling battle that ended with a fourth-round stoppage victory for Poirier at Gila River Arena

It was no surprise that the fists and feet began flying as soon as referee Herb Dean waved the combatants together. Gaethje focused on Poirier’s legs, while Poirier went upstairs, cutting Gaethje over the left eye. The pace was brutally fast, and as the round progressed, Poirier started digging to the body, which opened up head shots, allowing him to take the round. But the leg kicks of Gaethje had started taking their toll.

After a continuation of the hectic first round pace, there was a momentary break in the action early in round two when Poirier got poked in the eye, but there was no let-up once the two got back to business. And while Poirier landed several hard combinations, Gaethje walked through the punches and continued to batter the Louisiana native’s right leg. Late in the round, Poirier saw a couple takedown attempts come up empty, and it was Gaethje missing, but thrilling the crowd, with a flip at his foe.

Arizona’s Gaethje was clearly the fresher of the two entering round three, and he continued to stalk Poirier, who was cut over the eye and clearly bothered by it. With a little over three minutes left, Gaethje stunned Poirier with a punch upstairs, and as the fight went to the fence, Gaethje went on the attack. Poirier was able to buy some time, though, and he made it back to the center of the Octagon, where he was able to score with more hard shots. A pivotal moment came in the final minute of the round, though, when another eye poke from Gaethje cost him a point from referee Herb Dean.

Seconds into round four, a left hand from Poirier drilled Gaethje and hurt him, and “The Diamond” emptied his tank trying to finish. Gaethje did everything in his power to stay in the fight, but it was not to be, as Poirier’s barrage of punches brought in Dean to stop the bout at :33 of the fourth round.

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James Vick

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Justin Gaethje said that James Vick wasn’t on his level and that he was going to make him pay for all the trash he talked leading into their main event showdown on Saturday night in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Just over a minute into the opening round, Gaethje backed Vick into the fence and after going high with a left hook, he came over the top with a looping right hand that landed flush and toppled the towering Texan. Vick was out the instant the punch connected and crashed to the canvas in a heap, while Gaethje darted across the cage to perform his customary backflip off the top of the Octagon in celebration.

This was a devastating return to form for Gaethje, who had been on the business end of a pair of punishing stoppages over his last two outings. One of the most exciting action fighters in the sport, the 29-year-old Gaethje moved to 19-2 with 17 stoppages, solidifying his place in the lightweight Top 10 in the process.

For Vick, this was the opportunity he coveted – a main event assignment against a legitimate Top 10 opponent – but unfortunately it didn’t go anywhere close to how he planned. Saturday’s knockout loss halted his four-fight winning streak in a hurry and drops the 31-year-old to 13-2 overall.

If there was every any question as to why Gaethje was still headlining after two straight losses, the man with one of the most accurate nicknames in all of MMA – “The Highlight” – showed why, closing out the show in spectacular fashion.

(Report by E. Spencer Kyte)

2019
Edson Barboza

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Lightweight action heroes Justin Gaethje and Edson Barboza delivered the expected fireworks in their UFC Fight Night main event at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, but it was Gaethje landing the bomb that finished the fight before the horn marking the end of the first round.

Gaethje landed the first two leg kicks of the fight, but Barboza wasn’t far behind. Yet when Barboza focused on the kicks, Gaethje went upstairs with his punches and rocked the Brazilian before the two tied up against the fence. Ninety seconds in, the fighters separated and went back to the middle of Octagon and traded punches, Barboza getting briefly rattled again. Moments later, a single right hand sent Barboza hard to the canvas, and that was it, with referee Keith Peterson halting the bout at 2:30 of round one.

Donald Cerrone

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Lightweight contender Justin Gaethje made it three straight knockout wins in the UFC Vancouver main event Saturday night, and he looked better than ever as he finished veteran star Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in the first round.

Gaethje fed Cerrone a steady diet of leg kicks in the early going, and when he went upstairs with his punches, he was scoring well and landing flush shots that got his opponent’s attention. Not surprisingly, Cerrone stayed in the fray, but a right hand with under a minute left hurt and dropped him. Cerrone rose before another right put him down. Gaethje hesitated to keep throwing punches at his fallen foe, but had to land a couple more before referee Jerin Valel intervened at the 4:18 mark of round one.

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