The conclusion of UFC 249 had arrived, finally, with the elephant in the proverbial room implicating the absence of Khabib Nurmagomedov— along with the continued disappointment from fans regarding the elusive nature of that matchup. Many would argue though, that we had the next best thing in our main event.
Justin Gaethje willingly signed on the dotted line to step in and fight the ‘Boogeyman’ of 155 pounds, as fans anxiously scoot towards the edge of their seats to find out whether a Ferguson-Nurmagomedov fight will remain in the cards upon this card’s conclusion. The only man in the way of that, would not allow that to come to fruition without, well, a fight. And a fight is what Justin Gaethje delivers better than nearly anybody, boasting 7 performance bonuses in 6 fights. Ferguson came in to the interim lightweight title fight with a dozen wins in a row, and to make it 13 he would need to dispose of a man, that in a sport of wildmen across all weight classes, could be every bit as game as he is.
The main event got underway with the two lightweights scooting in carefully, looking to begin their initial feeling out of one another. Ferguson, moving in and out as he normally does. Gaethje, swinging for the fences with nearly every punch. Gaethje caught Ferguson on the entry a few times, but Ferguson remained right there in front of him. If there was any doubt either fighter would enter the octagon for this bout at anything but their best, those were eradicated pretty quickly. Gaethje continued to land as the round continued to unfold, but Ferguson didn’t look phased as a result of any of them.
A superman punch to start things off in round two from Tony Ferguson, seemed typical given his style. Gaethje answered that strike with a thudding left hook once more, and then another, and then another, with Ferguson still looking unbothered. Gaethje was continuing to inflict damage on Ferguson, and put together another solid round. All of a sudden, in the final moments of the round, a beautiful uppercut lands clean on Gaethje and drops him. Ferguson though, was a dozen or seconds too late as the horn sounds and saves Gaethje from further punishment.
As round three begun, a problem began to arise for Tony Ferguson with a massive amount of swelling beginning to accumulate on his right eye. The continued left hooks of Gaethje over the course of the fight had begun to take an effect, closing Ferguson’s right eye more and more. Gaethje buckled Ferguson with a right hand halfway through the round, but Ferguson regained composure quickly. Another one-two combination landed clean for Gaethje, and the underdog was by all accounts in a very good position through 15 minutes.
Another round, and more of the same story in round four— at least through the opening two minutes. Gaethje hurt Ferguson just over halfway through the round, and looked to go in for the kill before Ferguson scurried away from danger. Right before the minute mark of the final round, an errant strike below the waistline clips Gaethje, prompting a stoppage. Gaethje took almost no time before resuming the action.
With Ferguson visibly battered and bruised, and Gaethje yet to fade despite his high volume of strikes, there was a good chance that Ferguson would need a finish in the final round.
Gaethje almost immediately looked to hurt Ferguson again, and continued to stay composed despite Ferguson refusing to go away. Another huge blow lands for Gaethje by virtue of a right hand, and was Ferguson now beginning to run out of time. Tit for tat, and punch for punch, Gaethje never let up and never looked anything other than poised.
Gaethje continued to barrage Ferguson, and with under 90 seconds left in the round, a jab wobbles Ferguson again, backing him up and even shaking his head slightly in retreat. Referee Herb Dean noticed Ferguson’s body language, as well as his wobbled and woozy-looking state, and rightfully stepped in to save Ferguson from further damage. Justin Gaethje is your UFC interim lightweight champion, and a date with Khabib Nurmagomedov now appears to be on the horizon.
Official Result: Justin Gaethje def. Tony Ferguson via TKO (Strikes) at 3:39 of Round 5