Gaethje stops Johnson in 2nd round of spectacular UFC debut

July 08, 2017 - 12:22 am

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Justin Gaethje stopped Michael Johnson with punches in the second round of a savage fight Friday night, remaining unbeaten in a UFC debut that was every bit as spectacular as expected.

Gaethje (18-0) 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.

He celebrated by climbing onto the edge of the cage and doing a backflip onto the canvas, but only after slipping and falling in his first two attempts. Fans chanted Gaethje's name during the celebration.

"Who's next?" Gaethje asked the crowd. "Where is my equal? Where is he?"

Jesse Taylor stopped Dhiego Lima in a second-round choke to win the finale of "The Ultimate Fighter," the UFC's long-running reality competition show. Taylor earned a spot back in the UFC nine years after he was dropped from the promotion amid questionable outside-the-cage behavior.

But Gaethje's debut was the main event in the first card of the UFC's International Fight Week, and the veteran seized the spotlight.

Gaethje has been considered one of the top MMA prospects outside the UFC for several years. The former college wrestler was the lightweight champion in the World Series of Fighting, where he was one of that promotion's top attractions for the past four years.

Despite his wrestling background, Gaethje gained his fame as a willing brawler with potent fists and a reckless approach to the sport. He stopped 15 of his first 17 MMA opponents, including four straight heading into his UFC debut.

Johnson has been a UFC regular for six years, but he entered the cage in need of a victory after losing three of his previous four. The fighters didn't disguise their mutual contempt during the promotion of their bout, but embraced warmly afterward.

Taylor's victory is the culmination of a remarkable redemption story for a 34-year-old MMA veteran whose UFC career collapsed after just one bout in 2008. Taylor was removed from the finale of the seventh season of "The Ultimate Fighter" after his erratic behavior at a hotel.

Taylor embarked on an MMA odyssey encompassing 36 pro fights in a dozen countries over the next nine years before he earned another spot on "The Ultimate Fighter" this year.

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 spot back in the UFC.

"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."

Earlier, strawweight contender Tecia Torres improved to 9-1 with her first career finish, choking out Juliana Lima in the second round of a short-notice fight. Former lightweight title contender Gray Maynard also earned just his third victory in 10 fights since 2010, dominating Japan's Teruto Ishihara with wrestling.

And after Drakkar Klose won a split decision over previously unbeaten England's Marc Diakiese in a close fight, Klose celebrated by trash-talking Diakiese after the verdict and announcing in his post-fight interview that "All English dudes are bums."

AP Editorial Categories: 
Comments ()