Justin Gaethje delivered one of the most spectacular moments of a career already packed with highlights, knocking out Dustin Poirier with a head kick to win the BMF title.
He got sweet revenge in his rematch with ‘Diamante’ and set up beautifully to face the winner of October’s lightweight title fight between Islam Makhachev and Charles Oliveira.
He had been billed as a Fight of the Year contender and the first five minutes did not suggest otherwise.
Poirier came out with slick boxing, landing clean combinations but accepting his fair share of gruesome low kicks to the calf, the same type with which he weakened Conor McGregor two years ago.
It was an even contest, with Poirier perhaps shadowing the opening verse, landing eye level with his opponent, who swiped at him irritably.
Justin Gaethje produced a remarkable head kick KO of Dustin Poirier to win the UFC BMF title
Gaethje celebrated in his trademark fashion by flipping the cage over as the fans around him roared their approval.
It seemed that ‘The Highlight’ could hardly believe its own ending after producing a moment of magic.
But Gaethje got off to a brighter start in second. He was landing more frequently and then came the killing blow.
He delivered a perfect high kick with his right leg, connecting his shin with the chin of Poirier, who was out like a light. The Louisiana native was sent to the canvas and ate a follow-up shot before Herb Dean could dive and intervene.
It was eerily similar to Leon Edwards’ impressive kick to the head that knocked out Kamaru Usman to win the welterweight title at the same Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah last year.
Gaethje’s shot came with the right shin, while ‘Rocky’ shot with the left, but the image and the result were the same.
“Unlike any other sport on Earth, you rarely get a chance to redeem yourself,” Gaethje said after his win. ‘We take a loss, we just have to go home and sit with it and it consumes us and we usually never get that opportunity.
So to come back, to prove myself and I believed in myself the whole time I told Dustin that he is 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 look at that (first) fight compared to this fight, it’s night and day. It was a hard lesson to learn, but that man taught me that lesson and I believe God for him.’
Kamaru Usman, who was knocked out in Salt Lake City last year, was on hand to celebrate with his teammate.
Former BMF Champion Jorge Masvidal was there to present the belt to Gaethje after his impressive victory.
Poirier had his moments in an even first round, with both men landing impressive shots on each other.
Gaethje then added: ‘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 show that I’m the best in the world.
The American feels like he’s been around forever and has so much experience for a 34-year-old.
But he is still fiercely driven to reach the top of his division, having come up short against Khabib Nurmagomedov and Charles Oliveira in previous attempts at gold.
Perhaps he has refined the edges of his game that needed softening, showing in this fast-paced finish and 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 edge Jan Blachowicz on the scorecards.
The Brazilian was making his light heavyweight debut against the former champion and found himself struggling to survive in the first round.
Blachowicz managed to secure a takedown and wrap around the back, threatening to block a rear-naked choke that was ultimately well defended.
‘Poatan’ took over in the second, connecting hard shots against his opponent, who seemed to be tired from the height. The final five minutes followed a similar pattern, and despite a late takedown from the Pole, it was Pereira who was given the nod by split decision.
Alex Pereira escaped early trouble to beat Jan Blachowicz in a split decision victory
‘Poatan’ fought back and showed off his kickboxing prowess to overcome a split decision over the former champion