It’s now three first-round finishes on the trot for perennial lightweight contender Justin ‘The Highlight’ Gaethje. Our three judges were unlikely to have much involvement in the headliner of UFC Fight Night Vancouver last night, but the timely manner in which Gaethje dispatched ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone was somewhat shocking. Inside the final minute of the opening round, Gaethje had faced planted the Denver cult hero with a series of right hooks, forcing referee Jerin Valel to halt the contest, eventually. Setting the pace early on with leg kicks to draw Cerrone onto his power, Gaethje kept his distance, forcing Cerrone to engage. Clipping the one-time title chaser on cue, an over-extended Cerrone fell straight onto a handful of right hooks and slumped to the canvas.
Donald Cerrone vs. Justin Gaethje
Before the end of last night’s main event, the consensus within the mixed-martial-arts community was pretty cut and dry. The winner of ‘Cowboy’ vs. Gaethje becomes arguably the next in line to face the winner of the long-awaited Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson lightweight championship tilt. Another possible matchup on the horizon for the victor in the meantime was a title eliminator with Conor McGregor. Cerrone has been linked with a dream clash with ‘The Notorious’ one since the Dubliner made inroads to the division during 2016, while McGregor himself reveled, how a hand injury suffered in sparring, scuppered a July date at Madison Square Garden against ‘The Highlight’. Gaethje gave his take on the situation at the top of the 155-pound pile with Daniel Cormier after the event; “The Irishman’s (Conor McGregor) retired, I wanna fight a real fighter, I want the winner of Tony (Ferguson) vs. Khabib (Nurmagomedov).”
Speaking with Megan Olivi, Tyron Woodley, and Dan Hardy after the contest, Gaethje later told of his intentions to fight McGregor, if the former two-weight world champion was serious about returning to the Octagon. “If he’s gonna fight I definitely wanna fight him. He punched an old man in the face, I wanna f**k him up for that.“
For ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone, the goal in the previous year was a final siege for Octagon gold and supremacy. The former Jackson-Wink staple has now dropped two consecutive losses since his lightweight rebirth, and will likely drop out of the top five as a result. A man who Cerrone is all too familiar with and someone who has made a surge of his own at lightweight is Paul Felder. Both men have shared the training room on countless occasions during the earlier years of their career, and a clash between them at this stage in time makes the most sense in my opinion. Felder recently at UFC 242, drawn level with Edson Barboza in a similarly exciting rematch, the Brazilian, just like ‘Cowboy’ has dropped his last two fights so a re-run of their brief 2014 matchup also is a realistic possibility.