A Justin Gaethje fight is guaranteed violence, and his first-round knockout victory over Edson Barboza delivered the goods. The Highlight closed out UFC on ESPN 2 with a memorable knockout for the fans in the Wells Fargo center in Philadelphia.
The bout started—as many expected—with both fighters exchanging brutal leg kicks and exchanging in the clinch and stand-up game. However, Barboza's escape path took him right into the looping right hand of Gaethje to bring the fight to a close early.
The lightweight has developed a reputation for putting on fan-friendly fights, and the approach has led to much success and love from fans. This win only added to that legend.
Gaethje should continue to get high-profile fights. The former World Series of Fighting champion has put back-to-back wins in now after a two-fight skid against Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier. After the bout, he took the opportunity to call out Donald Cerrone, who was recently ranked ahead of him after a win over Alexander Hernandez.
After this performance, Gaethje should get whatever fight he wants. It's guaranteed entertainment every time out for The Highlight.
Here's a look at how the rest of the card went down in Philadelphia.
- Justin Gaethje def. Edson Barboza via first-round KO (2:30)
- Jack Hermansson def. David Branch via sub (guillotine) (R1, 0:49)
- Josh Emmett def. Michael Johnson via third-round KO (4:14)
- Michelle Waterson def. Karolina Kowalkiewicz via unanimous decision (30-27 x3)
- Paul Craig def. Kennedy Nzechukwu via sub (triangle choke) (R3, 4:20)
- Sodiq Yusuff def. Sheymon Moraes via unanimous decision (29-27, 29-28 x2)
- Marina Rodriguez def. Jessica Aguilar via unanimous decision (29-26, 29-27 x2)
- Desmond Green def. Ross Pearson via first-round TKO (2:52)
- Kevin Aguilar def. Enrique Barzola via unanimous decision (29-28 x3)
- Kevin Holland def. Gerald Meerschaert via split decision (29-27, 28-29, 30-27)
- Casey Kenney def. Ray Borg via unanimous decision (29-28 x2, 30-27)
- Maryna Moroz def. Sabina Mazo via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28 x2)
- Alex Perez def. Mark De La Rosa via unanimous decision (30-27 x3)
Jack Hermansson vs. David Branch
Jack Hermansson fights like he has dinner reservations that he has to get to after the event. He wasted no time in tying David Branch up in an arm-in guillotine attempt and forcing the tap in less than a minute.
The Joker blitzed Branch right out of the gate, causing a scramble, and Hermansson capitalized before Branch even had an opportunity to react. It was the first time that Branch has been defeated in the first round.
Hermansson is now 5-1 in his last six fights with a first-round finish in four of those five wins. It might be time for voters to take note of the Swede in the rankings. Branch is ranked No. 11 in the middleweight division.
It would be no surprise to see Hermansson get a shot against someone in the top 10 next, and they will have their hands full.
Josh Emmett vs. Michael Johnson
It only takes one strike to change a fight. It's a lesson that Michael Johnson learned the hard way against Josh Emmett.
For the majority of three rounds, The Menace was fighting his fight and having success against the 34-year-old. His quickness and combination striking were giving him a sizable advantage on the scorecard. But late in the third round, Emmett showed how he is able to change the course of a fight in a moment's notice.
Emmett continually looked to set up the knockout punch, and the strategy paid off. Emmett feinted with his left and uncorked a huge overhand right that crash-landed on Johnson's jaw and ended the fight.
This was a big win for Emmett, who was sidelined for a considerable time after his devastating loss to Jeremy Stephens. Emmett was forced to have surgery for facial injuries suffered in the loss, so coming back to pick up an exciting win in this fashion was a big moment.
Michelle Waterson vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz
Michelle Waterson took an important step toward title contention with a unanimous-decision victory over Karolina Kowalkiewicz in women's strawweight action.
The opening round was competitive, as both women worked on getting a read on one another. In the second round, Waterson found an opening and never looked back. She utilized a beautiful head and arm throw to take Kowalkiewicz down and utilize her top game.
In the third round, she showcased a well-rounded skill set. She beat up Kowalkiewicz in the clinch to go with more work on the ground and sealed the judges' decision.
It was one of the most impressive performances of Waterson's career and gives her three straight quality wins. In a division that hasn't had much going for it in the way of the title picture recently, that may be enough to get the next title shot.
She campaigned for it in her post-fight interview, and she just may get her wish:
Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Paul Craig
It wasn't pretty, but Paul Craig got back in the win column with a wild last-minute submission win over UFC newcomer Kennedy Nzechukwu.
This was not a visually appealing fight for most of the action. Craig spent much of the time spamming unsuccessful takedown attempts, hoping to drag Nzechukwu into a grappling match. Outside of a deep armbar attempt in the first round, it didn't appear to be a successful strategy.
Then there were multiple fouls from Nzechukwu that made it hard to appreciate his performance.
Then just when it seemed like the fight was all but over, Craig pulled off the improbable. With Nzechukwu inexplicably deciding to spend time in Craig's guard, he threw up a Hail Mary triangle choke attempt that drew the tap with seconds left in the round.
Craig was just 1-3 in his last four fights heading into the night, so it's possible he saved his job with the performance. Meanwhile, Nzechukwu takes his first professional loss in his UFC debut.
Sodiq Yusuff vs. Sheymon Moraes
"Super" Sodiq Yusuff made the most of his opportunity to shine on the ESPN main card. He got things started with a unanimous-decision victory over Sheymon Moraes.
The two featherweights battled to a draw through the first two rounds, but Yusuff made a statement with a strong third round to definitively take the lead.
Moraes is a solid win to have on the resume for the 25-year-old. Leading up to this fight, Moraes' only losses were to No. 1-ranked bantamweight Marlon Moraes and No. 6-ranked featherweight Zabit Magomedsharipov.
If Yusuff can prove to be anywhere near the same talent as those two, his future in the organization is bright.