Justin Gaethje showed he could be a big fish in a big pond.
The former World Series of Fighting titleholder set foot inside the Ultimate Fighting Championship for the first time and did not disappoint, as he disposed of Michael Johnson with punches and knees in the second round of “The Ultimate Fighter” 25 Finale headliner on Friday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Johnson packed his bags 4:48 into Round 2, unable to hold off the avalanche in a clear “Fight of the Year” contender.
By FightMetric’s count, the two lightweights threw 374 significant strikes at one another in less than 10 minutes. Gaethe connected at a remarkable 59-percent clip, landing 104 of his 174 attempted strikes: 62 to the head, 36 to the legs and six to the body. He did not escape unscathed, as Johnson wobbled him with a slashing right hook at the end of the first round and then dazed him with a straight left at the start of the second. Neither shot led to a finish, and Gaethje’s fabled recuperative powers rescued him yet again.
In the aftermath of “The Ultimate Fighter 25” Finale, here are five matches that ought to be made:
Justin Gaethje vs. Kevin Lee: While Gaethje’s live-by-the-sword approach may not do much for his longevity in the sport, no one can dispute the results: the 28-year-old is now 18-0 with 15 knockouts. Blockbuster fights are undoubtedly in his future. The UFC could go in any number of directions with Gaethje in a lightweight division loaded with talent. Lee last competed at UFC Fight Night 112 on June 25, when he was awarded a controversial technical submission against Michael Chiesa in Oklahoma City. The officiating blunder aside, he appeared to be well on his way to victory. Lee, 24, has won five fights in a row.
Michael Johnson vs. Michael Chiesa: Johnson allowed himself to be drawn into a firefight with Gaethje and paid the price. The enigmatic lightweight has lost four of his past five bouts, his spectacular technical knockout on Dustin Poirier now encircled by losses to Gaethje, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Nate Diaz and Beneil Dariush. Those four men own a cumulative record of 75-14. Where Johnson goes from here remains to be seen. Chiesa saw his three-fight winning streak grind to a halt in a technical submission defeat to the aforementioned Lee in June. “The Ultimate Fighter 15” winner protested the result, pointing out that referee Mario Yamasaki called for the stoppage despite the fact that Chiesa neither tapped nor lost consciousness while ensnared in Lee’s rear-naked choke.
Jared Cannonier vs. Ilir Latifi-Tyson Pedro winner: An intriguing piece of the UFC puzzle at 205 pounds, Cannonier made the most of a difficult situation and put away short-notice replacement Nick Roehrick with a volley of third-round elbow strikes. Roehrick filled in for the injured Steve Bosse. Cannonier battered the granite-chinned Elevation Fight Team representative with power punches for two-plus rounds before finally subduing him in the third. He has gone 2-1 since downshifting to the light heavyweight division, a unanimous decision loss to Glover Teixeira in February his lone misstep. Latifi and Pedro have been booked opposite one another at UFC 215 on Sept. 9.
Angela Hill vs. Felice Herrig: After suffering defeats to Tecia Torres, Rose Namajunas and Jessica Andrade in her first three UFC appearances, Hill finally found her way to the winner’s circle. The former Invicta Fighting Championships strawweight titleholder outstruck Ashley Yoder across three rounds to pick up a unanimous decision on the undercard. Hill, 30, has won four of her past five bouts overall and only figures to improve with further seasoning at the highest level. The resurgent Herring last appeared at UFC Fight Night 112 on June 25, when she took a unanimous verdict from Justine Kish. Since losing to Paige VanZant in April 2015, the longtime Jeff Curran protégé has rattled off consecutive wins against Kish, Alexa Grasso and Kailin Curran.
Brad Tavares vs. Thales Leites: The steady and often-overlooked Tavares posted his second straight victory with a unanimous decision over “The Ultimate Fighter Nations” winner Elias Theodorou in a three-round middleweight showcase. Over the last five years, the Hawaiian has lost only to Robert Whittaker, Yoel Romero and Tim Boetsch, building a case as one of the more underappreciated competitors at 185 pounds. Leites last competed on April 22, when he captured a unanimous verdict from Sam Alvey at UFC Fight Night 108. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has compiled a 10-3 record over his last 13 appearances.