Justin Gaethje destroyed Tony Ferguson to become the interim UFC lightweight champion with a brilliant fifth-round stoppage win. Gaethje and Ferguson put on an instant classic at UFC 249, with both fighters sustaining substantial damage throughout. Gaethje will now go on to face Khabib Nurmagomedov for the UFC lighweight title.
Gaethje went into the fight in Florida as the underdog, but put in a performance of a dominant champion.
From the opening seconds of the fight, neither man took a step backwards, choosing to stand toe-to-toe constantly.
Ferguson put in a brilliant performance, but was ultimately stopped on his feet after being battered, bruised and bloodied by the new interim champion.
Gaethje will now go on to face Nurmagomedov for the full lightweight title, as the Russian was originally set to face Ferguson in April before the coronavirus pandemic swept America.
Ferguson opted to stand and trade with Gaethje for the majority of the fight, neglecting his wrestling techniques.
As he stood in front of Gaethje, he was continuously tagged with vicious punches and kicks.
Ferguson showed his incredible chin by shrugging off the punishment he received at the hands of ‘The Highlight’.
In the first round, he was cracked by a horrible kick to the head, but simply smiled and kept walking forward.
That would prove to be the theme for the fight going forward, Gaethje the aggressor, Ferguson refusing to take a back step and constantly answering to the underdog.
In the second round, it appeared the tide could turn in the final second, as Ferguson ripped a crippling uppercut which landed flush on Gaethje’s chin.
Before that, however, he had been eating punches and kicks for just under five minutes, so it was unlikely that he had done enough to even win the round.
Gaethje took the uppercut in his stride and stayed on his feet – just – and was able to hobble back to the stool for the break between rounds.
When they met again in round three, Ferguson continued to defend against Gaethje with his chin, simply absorbing punches and walking down the challenger.
‘El Cucuy’ is known for his stamina and physique, and was clearly trying to just wear down the younger man by stomping forward no matter what came at him.
But the damage was clear to see, and Ferguson was bleeding from various cuts and bruises on his face.
Ferguson kept throwing punches, but he was always one step behind Gaethje, who span ‘El Cucuy’ around with a leg kick.
In the fifth, the writing was on the wall for the former interim champion as he continued to be cracked with punches, kicks and elbows.
Gaethje put a rubber stamp on his performance by stunning Ferguson yet again towards the end of the final round, sending him rocking back towards the wall of the octagon.
Surprisingly, Ferguson stood and shook his head, rather than try to respond. The fighter on the longest win-streak in the lightweight division knew he was staring down the barrel of his fourth professional defeat.
And just moments later, he was pushed back against the canvas and Gaethje was able to put the finishing touches on his performance by jabbing Ferguson into the cage, leaving referee Herb Dean with no choice but to call time on the fight.
“I want to fight Khabib, there is no other fight I want right now.
“I knew I was a killer stepping in here. I’m good bro.
“He’s [Khabib] 28-0. And there’s no other challenge I want right now.
“I’m a killer in here, but as soon as I step outside that Octagon you will not see that in me.”