Justin Gaethje cemented his spot as the most exciting fighter in mixed martial arts with another jaw-dropping performance on Saturday night.
After engaging in a fire fight with Edson Barboza early, Gaethje landed a hellacious right hand midway through the opening round that put the Brazilian to sleep to earn his second straight knockout victory.
There was little doubt going into the fight that Gaethje and Barboza were going to put on show whether they clashed for one minute or all the way through five rounds.
Judging by the exchanges as soon as the fight got started, there was little chance that these two lightweights were going to make it out of the first round as the bombs started dropping early and often.
While Barboza is best known for his blistering kicks, it was Gaethje who landed a few thudding shots to the legs of his opponent to let him know that he definitely wasn’t afraid to play that game with him.
Undeterred, Barboza fired back with a few kicks of his own that rattled off of Gaethje’s shins as the damage being produced by both fighters started to mount.
The momentum shifted when Gaethje started to plow forward with his signature aggression, forcing Barboza to move backwards and then unleashing huge striking combinations. One particular shot slipped through Barboza’s defense and he was left on wobbly legs as Gaethje surged forward looking for the finish.
Barboza was able to survive after getting locked in the clinch and then after separating he blasted Gaethje with some hard strikes of his own including one counter punch that could have easily put most top ranked lightweights down to the floor.
Gaethje is nothing if not extraordinary so he ate that shot and then just kept coming back with more and more of his own offense.
Finally with Barboza trying to escape an exchange against the cage, Gaethje caught him with his hands down for a split second and that’s all it took to finish the fight.
Gaethje pressed ahead and uncorked a perfectly time right hand that twisted Barboza’s head like a bottlecap, rolled his eyes back into his head and sent him crashing down the canvas. As the referee rushed into stop the fight, Gaethje had enough mind not to throw another punch before jumping up to celebrate his handiwork.
The end came at 2:30 in the opening round.
“I just love this so much,” Gaethje said after his second consecutive first round knockout. “I was nervous cause I have no feelings coming in here. It scares me cause I don’t understand why I can’t be nervous or scared but I just love it way too much.”
The knockout — Gaethje’s third in the UFC — obviously puts him on track for another marquee fight in 2019 and he’s obviously focused on climbing closer and closer to title contention this year. There aren’t too many fighters ranked ahead of him but Gaethje appears to be gunning for all of them.
“UFC what the hell are you thinking moving Donald Cerrone in front of me? He beat the No. 15 guy, he just gets to jump ahead of me? This is ridiculous,” Gaethje said voicing his frustration at the rankings.
“There’s five or six guys in front of me. I want each and every one of them.”
There are several high profile lightweight fights coming up in the next couple of months and Gaethje would appear to be positioned to face any of the winners later this year. One thing that almost seems like a guarantee is that Gaethje could fight any of them and he would put on a show to remember.