Justin Gaethje proved he was still a force to be reckoned with at UFC 286.
‘The Highlight’ picked up a massive victory over Rafael Fiziev at London’s O2 Arena after a bloody three-round battle with the lightweight contender.
After a tentative start, the co-main event of UFC 286 came to life with both men landing big punches.
Gaethje appeared to get the most out of the early exchanges, at least in the eyes of the 20,000 fans at the O2 Arena who repeatedly chanted his name in the first round.
The fight had really lived up to expectations by the end of the first frame. Gaethje landed a huge forehand but ate a huge knee to the body before the crowd cheered on both men in their corners.
Fiziev started to take over early in the second round. He was just a little too quick for Gaethje and was able to test his jaw several times before easily dodging counterattacks.
Gaethje landed several eye-catching shots and even did some damage to his opponent’s face, but was unable to match the volume or variety of Fiziev’s shots.
Fiziev landed a big punch that sent Gaethje faltering early in the third round, but the still-in-game lightweight fighter quickly recovered and started landing some massive punches of his own.
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The London crowd cheered for him as he went in search of a haymaker finish in a fight that saw him walk away with a $50,000 performance bonus.
Both men poured their souls out in the final seconds of the UFC 286 co-main event, but they couldn’t find the finish and the fight went to the judges’ scorecards.
Gaethje took the split decision victory, with two of the three officials scoring the fight 29-28 in his favor, meaning he can now move on to a potential title fight.
Dustin Poirier is someone Gaethje would like, while he would also love to face Charles Oliveira again.
Speaking at the post-fight press conference, he said: “The loser of the fight Charles Oliveira against (Beneil) Dariush… I’d rather not fight Dariush – I love that guy
“I think he will beat Oliveira. I fought like a complete idiot when I fought Oliveira, so I would love to have that fight, but Dustin is a good option.
The 34-year-old has earned his nickname since joining MMA’s first promotion in July 2017.
Gaethje had epic fights with Michael Johnson, Eddie Alvarez, Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler. He even won the interim lightweight title by defeating Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 in May 2020.
However, he fell short when it really matters in the fights for the undisputed 155-pound belt.
The American was easily beaten by Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 254 before ‘The Eagle announced his retirement from MMA and vacated his lightweight title.
He then fell short in another title fight against Charles Oliveira.
Gaethje will now target Islam Makhachev who is expected to defend his 155-pound belt against an yet-to-be-named opponent at UFC 294 in October after edging out Alexander Volkanovski earlier this year.