He’s one of the UFC’s most exciting fighters, and has been awarded five ‘Fight of the Night’ and four ‘Performance of the Night’ awards in his seven bouts so far, but Justin Gaethje faces his biggest challenge yet when he takes on the undefeated Lightweight Champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 254 later this month. While he’s deemed as the underdog, with the latest Khabib odds very much in the Russian’s favour, Gaethje is the current interim champion and this unification battle couldn’t come at a better time. While we gear up to what will be an interesting encounter, let’s take a look back at five of Gaethje’s biggest performances in the Octagon.
vs Michael Johnson (July, 2017)
After vacating his World Series of Fighting (WSOF) title and transferring to the UFC, Gaethje had a debut to remember. The highly-anticipated fight lived up to all its expectations, with ‘The Highlight’ taking home both Fight of the Night and Performance of the Night awards, as he defeated his opponent in the second round, through a combination of punches and knees. Not only that, but Sherdog named the bout the ‘Best Fight of 2017’, as well naming the second-round victory as the ‘Best Round of the Year’.
vs James Vick (August, 2018)
Two defeats followed, although Gaethje was awarded Fight of the Night for both performances. In the lead-up to his bout against Vick on Fight Night, Gaethje said he was going to make his opponent pay for all the trash talk which ensued before their showdown. And he stuck to his word. With under 1 minute 30 seconds on the clock, The Highlight had been dominant, and after attempting a left hook, he landed a right-handed punch. Landing flush, it sent Vick to the canvas in a heap – and made the Texan eat his words.
vs Edson Barboza (March, 2019)
After completely humiliating Vick, it was another first-round victory for Gaethje, who struck another sweet, sweet punch to land the killer blow. It was a bout between two of the UFC’s strike specialists, and despite the bout lasting just the one round – two and a half minutes, to be precise – it has been a close encounter. While The Highlight landed the first hits of the night, his opponent was never far behind. After switching to punches, the pair tussled in the Octagon before Barboza was rattled. And, on the third time, a single right hand sent him to the deck. Another Fight of the Night award.
vs Donald Cerrone (September, 2019)
Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone is one of the most respected fighters in the UFC, but Gaethje made it a hat-trick of round one knock-outs – and looked good value to become a serious Lightweight contender. Gaethje began with his trademark series of kicks, before moving onto the punches, which he landed well. Veteran Cerrone was unable to cope with the barricade, but continued to pick himself up off the canvas. However, Gaethje continued to throw the punches and eventually, the referee intervened, calling a halt to the bout after four minutes.
vs Tony Ferguson (May, 2020)
In his most recent fight to date, Gaethje won the interim Lightweight title. Having been drafted in late to UFC 249, in replacement of Khabib, who couldn’t travel from his native Russia, The Highlight put an end to Ferguson’s 12-match unbeaten streak. After dominating from start to finish, he eventually stopped his opponent in the fifth round, by way of punches. He was also awarded both Fight of the Night and Performance of the Night. Gaethje was very much the underdog going into their bout, but a series of thunderous punches sent Ferguson to the floor on numerous occasions, and many believed the fight should have been stopped as early as the third round. The performance was more than enough to warrant a crack at Khabib.