Fight fans doubted whether Justin Gaethje could transition from World Series of Fighting into the UFC. He was 17-0 with 14 wins via knockout. They doubted whether the former WSOF lightweight champion would be to make the jump from a promotion comparable to an MLB AA baseball team. It didn’t help that his UFC debut was against No. 5 Michael Johnson in the main event of The Ultimate Fighter 25 Finale.
Gaethje proved he belonged, defeating Johnson in style by TKO at the 4:42 mark of the second round in what is so far the fight of the year from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
“You cannot break me,” Gaethje said to Brian Stann in his post-fight interview. “I promise you. You better put me to sleep.”
— FOX Sports: UFC (@UFCONFOX) July 8, 2017
Early in the first round, Gaethje and Johnson traded heavy punches, with the former holding the advantage. Near the end of the first round, Johnson almost put Gaethje to sleep with a right hook to wobble the UFC newcomer. Johnson went for the finish, but Gaethje was able to keep his wits together and survive the round.
Gaethje and Johnson began the second round like they did in the first: by exchanging heavy punches. “The Menace” continued what he did near the first round, wobbling Gaethje again with a right hand. But Gaethje showed a world champion-heart, coming back with a vengeance and firing off hard right hands.
The beginning of the end came when Gaethje landed a hard knee to Johnson’s body. Sensing Johnson was in trouble, Gaethje blasted him with a right hand and then a series of leg kicks, uppercuts and flying knees. Two final knees made Johnson crumble to the mat. Referee John McCarthy had seen enough.
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Gaethje connected on a staggering 100 punches, all of them significant strikes while Johnson connected on 96 punches and like Gaethje, all of them were significant strikes.
Gaethje runs his record to 18-0 and has vaulted himself into title consideration. He now becomes one of the most popular fighters in the sport, due to his granite chin and will to win. On who he wanted to fight next, Gaethje didn’t mince any words.
“Who’s next?!” Gaethje screamed to Stann. “Where is my equal?! Where is he?!”
Steven Muehlhausen is an MMA and boxing writer and contributor for Sporting News. You can listen to his podcast, “The Fight Junkies” here. You can email him at [email protected] and can find him on Twitter @SMuehlhausenMMA.