Dubai: Underdog Justin Gaethje delivered a powerhouse performance in the biggest fight of his career to snap Tony Ferguson’s 12-fight winning streak in ruthless fashion to claim the UFC lightweight interim title in Florida on Saturday night (Sunday morning UAE time).
Coming into the fight as a short-notice replacement for champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, the 31-year-old Pennsylvania native stopped Ferguson with a barrage of shots to the head in the fifth and final round, forcing referee Herb Dean to call a stop to the contest.
In a brutal contest that saw both fighters slugging it out on their feet, Gaethje repeatedly stunned Ferguson with clean counter-punches that repeatedly had him back-pedalling before the end came at 3:30 in Round 5.
“I’m waiting for the real one,” Gaethje told UFC’s Joe Rogfan in the post-fight interview, after removing the interim belt and tossing it aside.
“There’s no other challenge I want right now. I want to fight him,” said calling out Nurmagomedov, who immediately took to twitter to say, ‘no comment’.
“I knew I was a killer stepping in here. I’m good bro. No better drug on earth than adrenalin coursing through my veins.
“I have a world-class coach. I had to lose to change. You can’t fix what’s broken. Once I understood what was wrong, I was getting hit too much and I was having too much fun. “Both times I lost, I was having too much fun. At this level, you cannot do that.”
It was Ferguson’s first defeat since 2013 and left him pondering his future.
Also on the card
Earlier in the co-main event former Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo scored a controversial TKO against former champion Domick Cruz to defend his 135lb title.
"I'm ruthless," Cejudo told Rogan. "I may be cringey, corny, but boy, can I fight."
The 33-year-old then shocked the mixed martial arts world when he announced his retirement.
"I'm happy with my career. I've done enough in the sport. I want to walk away and enjoy myself. “ he said.
“I'm 33 years old. I have a girl now, watching me from back home. Since I was 11, I've sacrificed my life to get to where I was tonight. I'm retiring tonight.
“Uncle Dana [UFC president Dana White], thank you. Everybody here, thank you so much."
Cejudo also grabbed the mike to declare himself the best combat sports athlete of all time.
Meanwhile, Cruz, who was making a comeback after an absence of three years, was quick to protest the stoppage
"I'm not happy with the stoppage, obviously," Cruz said. "I specifically asked the ref to let me go until I was out. If I stayed on the floor, fine. But I was working my way up.
"Hat's off to Henry. I shouldn't have gotten caught by that knee, which is what put me in that position. But I was standing up."
In the preliminary main event welterweight duel Anthony Pettis continued his domination of Donald Cerrone to score a unanimous points victory while 32-year-old Carla Esparza scored a split decision victory over Michelle Watterson a women’s straw weight fight.
Fight by fight
Interim lightweight title
4-Justin Gaethje (USA/Genesis Training Center) def. 2-Tony Ferguson (USA/Team Death Clutch) via fifth-round TKO (punches)
Gaethje: "I knew I was a killer stepping in here. I'm good bro. No better drug on earth than adrenaline coursing through my veins.”
1-Henry Cejudo (USA/Fight Ready) def. Dominick Crus (USA/Alliance MMA) via second-round TKO
Cejudo: "I'm ruthless. I may be cringey, corny -- but boy, can I fight. I'm happy with my career. I've done enough in the sport. I want to walk away and enjoy myself."
2-Francis Ngannou (France-Cameroon/MMA Factory) def. 6-Jair Rozenstruik (Suriname/American Top Team) via first-round TKO
Ngannou: “With or without a title shot, I’m still a fighter and still have what I have and can make a statement. I had fun out there, it wasn’t something I was chasing.”
12-Calvin Kattar (USA/Carlos Neto BJJ) def. 13-Jeremy Stephens (USA/Alliance MMA) via second-round knockout
Katter: “New England cartel is here to stay! Hopefully I climb up to that top 5, I’d like a shot at an Ultimate Fighter or someone big. “
103-Greg Hardy (USA/American Top Team) def. 143-Yorgan de Castro (USA/Regiment Training Center) via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Hardy: “I feel like I proved that I can stay focused, stay in the pocket and do my job. I’m here to stay, here to evolve and do my job.”
12-Anthony Pettis (USA/Roufusport) def. 20-Donald Cerrone (USA/BMF Ranch) via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Pettis: “I’m better than I was when I won the belt. I think each part of your career requires a new version of yourself and I’m finding the version that makes sense.”
17-Aleksei Oleinik(Russia/Oleynik Team) def. 5-Fabricio Werdum (USA/Werdum Combat Team) via decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Oleinik: “This means a lot for me because you can fight with one guy, two guys, 10 guys, but not a name. If you only fight people with no name, you will have no name yourself.”
6-Carla Esparza (USA/Team Oyama) def. 11-Michelle Waterson (USA/Jackson-Wink MMA) via decision (30-27, 29-28, 30-27)
Esparza: “I don’t think I’ve ever truly left, completely left the talks of going back for that belt. I think I’ve been clawing and been trying to fight my way back and there’s been a couple of bumps in the road but always just trying to improve and get my way back there.”
25-Vicente Luque (USA/Brazil Cerrado MMA) def. 47-Niko Price (USA/Futures MMA) via third-round TKO
Luque: “I definitely think that I’ve gotten better since my last fight and that I’m still here. I’m still here to be relevant and get up that division and eventually fight for that title.”
20-Bryce Mitchell (USA/Barata MMA) def. 35-Charles Rosa (USA/American Top Team) via unanimous decision (30-25, 30-25, 30-24)
Mitchell: “I just think that I proved that I got world class teammates and coaches. I’ve been saying that for years, what they’re telling me to do and what I’m doing is world class.”
12-Ryan Spann (USA/Fortis MMA) def. 18-Sam Alvey (USA/Team Quest) via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Spann: “Feels good to come in and win, that’s the goal in the first place, get the win. I wanted to look more imposing, but overall I’m happy to get the win, just disappointed in the way we got it, but we’re back.”