Justin Gaethje delivered one of the most spectacular moments of a career already stuffed full of highlight-reel footage, knocking out Dustin Poirier with a head kick to win the BMF title.
He exacted sweet revenge in his rematch with ‘Diamond’ and teed himself up beautifully to face the winner of October’s lightweight title fight between Islam Makhachev and Charles Oliveira.
It had been billed as a Fight of the Year contender and the opening five minutes did nothing to suggest otherwise.
Poirier came out with slick boxing, landing clean combinations but accepting his fair share of horrible low kicks to his calf, the same kind he debilitated Conor McGregor with two years ago.
It was an even contest, with Poirier perhaps shading the opening stanza, landing flush to the eye of his opponent, who pawed at it in irritation.
Justin Gaethje produced a remarkable head kick KO of Dustin Poirier to win the UFC’s BMF title
Gaethje celebrated in trademark fashion by flipping off the cage while the fans around him roared in approval
‘The Highlight’ looked as though he could hardly believe his own finish after producing a moment of magic
But Gaethje made the brighter start to the second. He was landing with more frequency and then the killer blow came.
He threw a picture perfect high kick with his right leg, connecting his shin to the chin of Poirier, who was out like a light. The Louisiana native was sent tumbling to the mat and ate a follow-up shot before Herb Dean could dive in and intervene.
It was eerily similar to Leon Edwards’ stunning head kick KO of Kamaru Usman to win the welterweight title in the very same Delta Center venue in Salt Lake City, Utah, last year.
Gaethje’s finish came with his right shin, whereas ‘Rocky’ produced his with the left, but the image and result was the same.
‘Unlike any other sport on Earth, you rarely get a chance at redemption,’ Gaethje said following his win. ‘We take a loss, we just have to go home and sit with it and it eats us away and we usually never get that chance.
‘So to come back, to prove myself and I believed in myself the whole time I told Dustin he’s my favorite fighter on Earth. Luck and chance are a factor in this cage and I just thank god I came out on the right side this time.
‘If you watch that [first] fight compared to this fight, it’s night and day. It was a tough lesson to learn but that man taught me that lesson and I think God for him.’
Kamaru Usman, who was knocked out in Salt Lake City last year, was on hand to celebrate with his team-mate
Former BMF champion, Jorge Masvidal, was there to hand over the belt to Gaethje after his impressive win
Poirier had his moments in an even first round, with both men landing impressive shots on one another
Gaethje then went on to add: ‘You know what I want to do next. I want to fight for the world championship. These guys are fighting in October. I’m going to prove I’m the best in the world.’
The American feels as though he’s been around forever and has so much experience for a 34-year-old.
But he is still fiercely driven to summit his division having fallen short against Khabib Nurmagomedov and Charles Oliveira in previous shots at the gold.
Perhaps he has refined the edges of his game that needed to be smoothed over, showing in this blistering finish and the decision win over Rafael Fiziez in London earlier this year, that he is now ready to take the final step.
In the co-main event, Alex Pereira overcame some early adversity to overcome Jan Blachowicz on the scorecards.
The Brazilian was making his light-heavyweight debut against the former champion and found himself battling to survive in the opening round.
Blachowicz managed to secure a takedown and wrap himself around the back, threatening to lock in a rear-naked choke that was ultimately well defended.
‘Poatan’ took over in the second, landing heavy shots against his opponent, who looked to be weary at the altitude. The final five minutes followed a similar pattern and despite a late takedown for the Pole, it was Pereira who was given the nod by split decision.