Count out Justin ‘The Highlight’ Gaethje at your peril.
After suffering back-to-back defeats against Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, some were rating former World Series of Fighting lightweight champion Gaethje as a spent force at the top of the UFC’s talent-stacked lightweight division.
But on Saturday night in Lincoln, Nebraska, Gaethje produced the most clinical performance of his UFC career to starch in-form contender James Vick with a devastating one-punch knockout and claim a statement victory in the night’s main event.
Vick was picked by many observers as the pre-fight favourite, with the ‘Texecutioner’ heading into the bout riding a four-fight win streak with wins over Abel Trujillo, Polo Reyes, Joseph Duffy and Francisco Trinaldo.
Gaethje, meanwhile, was looking to bounce back after suffering TKO losses to former UFC champion Alvarez and top contender Poirier in punishing, back-and-forth wars.
Vick’s slick boxing style, range advantage was thought to be the perfect style to pick off Gaethje’s come-forward, relentless style. But ‘The Highlight’ proved those assessments to be inaccurate.
Gaethje fought similarly to in his past fights, but perhaps was a little more considered in his approach, as he calmly walked down Vick, backing up against the cage, then exploding with a two-punch combination.
The left hand was more of a pathfinder, clearing Vick’s hands away from his face, exposing his chin for the crushing right hook that swiftly followed. It connected flush and knocked Vick out clean.
— Simon Head (@simonhead) August 26, 2018
So bad was the knockout that some moments later, after Gaethje had completed his trademark backflip off the top of the cage in celebration and jumped into the crowd to greet his friends and family, Vick still thought he was in the fight.
When Gaethje went over to the seated Vick to console him, the still-badly concussed Vick looked to take down ‘The Highlight’.
After the bout, Gaethje told UFC analyst and fellow lightweight fighter Paul Felder: “This game is unforgiving, man. That could easily be me right now and it’s what we do.”
Vick had taunted Gaethje in the lead-up to the fight, mocking him for the way he ships punishment during fights, even comparing him to Homer Simpson during a famous clip where the Simpsons character kept getting hit in the face.
“I’m the least fake person in this sport,” said Gaethje.
“I take everything personal, I took everything he said personal and I’m glad I put him to sleep.
“I prepare for a fight. I prepare for 25 minutes every single time I come in here. I don’t expect nothing less from myself or from my opponent.
“I knew James was ready and, you know, it’s hard to get when you’re trying to move backwards. That’s why I meet punches, force with force.
“You can talk all the crap you want about me, but I see punches, I take them on the forehead and I’m not gonna take them moving backwards. Who’s next?”
— UFC (@ufc) August 26, 2018
And backstage after the contest, Gaethje said he wants a rest, but also wants to restructure his UFC contract so he’s paid the full amount before he fights.
Speaking to MMAjunkie, he said: “It should get me a business meeting with the UFC.
“The way I put it on the line, I need all my money up front. And that’s how it should work for people like me.
“They should use me as an example. If you want all your money, you fight like Justin Gaethje.”
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