Gaethje stops John­son in second round of spec­tac­u­lar UFC de­but

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Justin Gaethje fin­ished bat­ter­ing Michael John­son and ran off to climb the cage in cel­e­bra­tion of his de­but UFC vic­tory. He briefly stood atop the fence, but slipped, hit­ting his head while fall­ing 6 feet back to the can­vas.

He fell again on his second at­tempt, but Gaethje found his bal­ance on his third try. He re­turned to Earth with a joy­ous, grace­ful back­flip . “I’m not a quit­ter. I proved it,” the light­weight said with a grin. “Hey, it was re­ally slip­pery up there. I was tired. But I can nail (the back­flip) 10 out of 10 times once I get up there and plant my feet. I only (do it) when I get a sweet knock­out, and that was sweet.”

Gaethje has spent years work­ing to reach the big­gest stage in mixed mar­tial arts. When the for­mer col­lege wrestler fi­nally hit the big-time Fri­day night, he showed why he could be the UFC’s next big thing. Gaethje (18-0) stopped John­son in the second round of a sav­age fight that en­cap­su­lated his en­tire style. From the open­ing minute to the fi­nal flurry, he lived up to his rep­u­ta­tion as a fighter with pun­ish­ing skills, ath­letic bril­liance and a reck­less dis­re­gard for his own safety. “I’ve got the big­gest heart, and I’m the most vi­o­lent guy in the divi­sion,” Gaethje said. “I’ll prove it time and time again. I’ll take the most bor­ing fighter and have Fight of the Year. That’s what I do. I’m an en­ter­tainer.”

The UFC agrees: Dana White awarded Gaethje two bonuses to­tal­ing $100,000 af­ter the bout. Gaethje got wob­bled and hurt by John­son dur­ing a fre­netic first round and again in the second, but the UFC new­comer took con­trol of the fight af­ter stag­ger­ing John­son mid­way through the round with a knee to the body. Gaethje fin­ished the vet­eran John­son (18-12) with pri­mal punches and knees that elicited gasps from the T-Mo­bile Arena crowd.

BACKFLIPS

Af­ter two aborted backflips and one beauty, Gaethje went to work on the mi­cro­phone to make sure ev­ery­one knows he can sell a fight as well. “Who’s next?” Gaethje asked the crowd. “Where is my equal? Where is he?” That might be light­weight pow­er­houses Tony Fer­gu­son or Khabib Nur­magome­dov, although Gaethje doesn’t have their pedi­gree just yet. It might even be light­weight cham­pion Conor McGre­gor, who took time out dur­ing his train­ing for Floyd May­weather to catch Gaethje’s per­for­mance.

“That was a good con­test,” McGre­gor tweeted . “Two fight­ers, fight­ing.” “I’m in his weight class, (so) he’d bet­ter be watch­ing,” Gaethje replied. “He has a big tar­get on his back, and I’m aim­ing for it. Real rec­og­nizes real. That dude is a war­rior. I’m a war­rior. If I get the in­terim belt around my waist ... I’m not go­ing to ask for the money fight. I’m go­ing to be the money fight.”

De­spite his wrestling back­ground, Gaethje gained his fame as a will­ing brawler with po­tent fists and a reck­less ap­proach to the sport. He has stopped 16 of his first 18 MMA op­po­nents af­ter fin­ish­ing John­son, a re­spected vet­eran who in­fu­ri­ated Gaethje with pre-fight trash talk.

Ear­lier, wel­ter­weight Jesse Tay­lor stopped Dhiego Lima with a second-round choke to win the fi­nale of “The Ul­ti­mate Fighter,” the UFC’s long-run­ning re­al­ity com­pe­ti­tion show. In the cul­mi­na­tion of a re­mark­able re­demp­tion story, the 34-year-old Tay­lor earned a spot back in the UFC nine years af­ter he was dropped from the pro­mo­tion. White re­moved Tay­lor from the fi­nale of the sev­enth sea­son of “The Ul­ti­mate Fighter” in 2008 af­ter his er­ratic be­hav­ior. Tay­lor em­barked on an MMA odyssey en­com­pass­ing 36 pro fights in a dozen coun­tries be­fore he earned an­other spot on the re­al­ity show.

“It’s been a crazy, long jour­ney, and this is the goal at the end,” Tay­lor said. “But this chap­ter is closed, and I want to make a run for (the ti­tle). I want to see how far I can take this ride.” Tay­lor dom­i­nated the first round against Lima with su­pe­rior wrestling, but was knocked down by a punch early in the second. Tay­lor turned it to his ad­van­tage, clamp­ing down on Lima from the ground and even­tu­ally work­ing into po­si­tion for the fin­ish­ing choke.

With his vic­tory, Tay­lor earned $290,000 and a second chance. “This goes out to all the peo­ple that have messed up in life and never given up,” an emo­tional Tay­lor said in the cage. “Just keep go­ing. Keep go­ing. Don’t stop.”

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