Justin Gaethje captured the interim UFC lightweight championship via a fifth-round TKO win over Tony Ferguson to close out UFC 249 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, on Saturday.
In typical Gaethje fashion, The Highlight was looking for the early knockout. He threw heavy leather from the outset and tested Ferguson’s chin early. The Highlight was particularly effective with the left hook, a punch that found a home on El Cucuy’s head multiple times.
Gaethje’s aggression continued to define the fight in the second frame. El Cucuy walked through everything he had to offer but his calculated aggression was winning the majority exchanges:
Ferguson got his first big moment in the back-and-forth when he floored Gaethje with an uppercut to end the round:
The third round was Gaethje’s turn to show off his remarkable toughness. He shook off the late knockdown in the second to come back and continue to land punches with regularity. Ferguson swept his opponent off the ground with a sweeping low kick to fulfill his quota of at least one unorthodox technique per fight.
But Gaethje’s bombs were still the story of the round.
The championship rounds only served to magnify the advantage that Gaethje held. He continued to throw bombs and Ferguson continued to stumble around as his offense waned. Ultimately Herb Dean finally brought the fight to an end despite Ferguson still standing.
This is easily the biggest win of The Highlight's UFC career. After starting out his UFC run by losing two of his first three, the former World Series of Fighting champion now has four straight wins, the interim title and a win over the hottest lightweight in the division not to win the title.
Ferguson's winning streak was one of the most impressive in MMA. He won 12 straight stretching back to 2012 but was unable to turn that into a title shot as unfortunate timing, health and bad breaks have largely kept El Cucuy on the fray of the title picture.
This bout is a perfect example. Ferguson was originally slated to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov in Brooklyn, New York, on April 18. However, the coronavirus pandemic forced the card to be moved, and Russia's travel ban left the champion without a way to make the trip.
The date change was also a problem for Nurmagomedov, as the new date conflicts with his observance of Ramadan.
That left Gaethje as the new opponent for Ferguson and an interim title as the new prize.
Unfortunately for El Cucuy, Gaethje remains one of the most dangerous matchups in the game. Gaethje's ability to stop Ferguson's momentum now creates a tidal wave of his own, and he has the champion set in his sights.
"When I beat Tony, I am fighting Khabib next, because that's what I'm here for," Gaethje told Brett Okamoto of ESPN. "I'm here to try to be the best in the world."
Both Gaethje and Ferguson have established themselves as exciting fighters willing to risk a lot to bet on themselves. In this case, it was The Highlight whose bet paid off.