Justin Gaethje and James Vick locked horns in the Octagon Saturday night in Lincoln, Nebraska riding two waves traveling in opposite trajectories. Gaethje was coming off of back-to-back losses and looking to prove he was a top fighter in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s stacked lightweight division while Vick, riding four straight wins, was looking to break into the ranks of the elite with a marquee win. It did not take long for lightning to strike, as Gaethje bounced back with a brutal knockout over Vick just over a minute into their main-event tilt.
The fight began typical of most Gaethje fights. He quickly looked to walk down his opponent, feeling-out process be damned. He waded in with chopping leg kicks and overhand punches on the taller and rangy Vick who was sticking to the outside looking to keep him at bay with stiff jabs and body kicks. A minute into the first round, Vick found himself against the fence with Gaethje stalking. Gaethje fired off a short left shovel hook followed by a right hand over the top that had Vick out cold before he had a chance to hit the ground. And just like that, Gaethje was back in the winner’s circle for the first time since his UFC debut against Michael Johnson over a year ago, Sherdog’s 2017 Fight of the Year .
Immediately after the finish, Gaethje delivered a picture-perfect backflip off of the fence before hopping into the crowd to embrace his family in a victorious hug. In his post-fight interview, “The Highlight” opted for a callout of former interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson who is currently slated to fight Anthony Pettis at UFC 229 in October. That fight would surely result in another Fight of the Year contender for the lightweight division’s most exciting product.
‘The Menace’ Bounces Back
Michael Johnson and Andre Fili battled to the bitter end in a closely-contested bout that saw Johnson on the winning end for the first time since 2016 as he took home a split decision victory over the Team Alpha Male product. The fight played out predominantly on the feet where both fighters exchanged stiff shots but neither was able to visibly rock his opponent. Throughout the contest, Johnson’s speed advantage was clear, allowing him great success in keeping Fili on the end of his punches and not allowing the opposition to capitalize on counter strikes.
Fili’s shining moment came in the second round where he was able to latch onto Johnson’s back and fish for a rear-naked choke that seemed to be locked in. Johnson remained resilient and managed to squeeze free of the choke and land in Fili’s guard in superior position. The remainder of the fight was played out on the feet where the two traded shots until the final bell.
Post-fight, a sense of relief emanated from Johnson as he took to the mic to express his joy in achieving his first victory in four fights and avoiding being cut by the UFC in the process. He expressed his belief that he has the weight cut to 145 down to a science following his second fight in the new division, and that the better cut contributed to his victory. He also expressed interest in returning to the Octagon before the end of the year.
Laying Down the Gloves
Nebraska’s greatest export to mixed martial arts, Jake Ellenberger, took on Bryan Barberena in a feature bout on the main card. The fight lasted barely half a round. Barberena landed a stiff right hand that bounced off the temple of Ellenberger, sending the veteran crashing to the mat. Ellenberger briefly hunted for a single-leg as he gathered his wits and attempted to stand but Barberena stayed steadfast in his approach and put Ellenberger right back on the mat with another right hand over the top, this time keeping him down and pounding him out for the quick finish win. It was Ellenberger’s fourth straight knockout loss and his sixth defeat in his last seven fights.
The victorious Barberena thanked Ellenberger for the opportunity and wished him well going forward before giving the floor to the veteran welterweight. “The Juggernaut” then announced his retirement from MMA competition, laying his gloves in the center of the Octagon, signaling the end of the run of one of the welterweight division’s most decorated competitors and feared knockout artists. Ellenberger’s UFC career spanned ten years and 21 fights including memorable victories over the likes of Diego Sanchez, Jake Shields and Nate Marquardt.
Cortney Casey-Sanchez and Angela Hill fought to a split decision in their main card bout, with Casey emerging as the victor. The highly-ranked strawweights contested the bout entirely on the feet where Casey seemed to succeed in landing the heavier shots of the two, and securing the decision … Deiveson Figueiredo remained undefeated as a professional, taking home a second-round TKO victory over John Moraga in their main card bout. Figueiredo painted the face of Moraga by way of crisp, brutal boxing en route to the finishing blows. Post-fight, Figueiredo took aim at the flyweight division’s Top 5 … Eryk Anders bounced back from the first loss in his career with a spectacular soccer kick KO win in the closing seconds of his bout with Tim Williams. As Williams looked to stand, Anders took advantage of his opponent’s position and landed a brutal kick to the head a split-second after Williams lifted his hand from the mat, rendering the strike perfectly legal. The kick landed squarely on Williams’ unprotected face and sent him crashing back to the canvas, unconscious.