Justin Gaethje lived up to his moniker as the most exciting fighter in the history of the sport with another instant classic at UFC 286.
It was a dog fight from start to finish but Gaethje found a way to gut out a victory over a game opponent in Rafael Fiziev. The lightweights went to war for all 15 minutes but it was Gaethje’s power and relentless offensive onslaught that helped him get the nod, although Fiziev should still hold his head up high after that battle.
The final scores read 29-28, 29-28 and 28-28 with judge Paul Sutherland giving the first two rounds to Fiziev but then scoring round three for Gaethje as a 10-8, which led to the majority decision. Either way, Gaethje gets the win as he looks to make one last run at the title before calling it a career.
“I literally tried not to do that,” Gaethje said after another three-round war. “The perfect dance partner. I got my takedown, everybody can shut the f*** up now. These guys are young, hungry and that’s a dangerous motherf***** right there.
“I’m taking one more run at the title but I won’t be around much longer.”
It was speed against power with Fiziev unleashing some blistering combinations while Gaethje was firing back at him with a knockout on his mind. Fiziev was so quick with his punches and then launching a number of kicks to the body.
In a rare moment, Gaethje actually looked for a takedown late in the first round and then followed with a huge overhand right that may have been his best punch. Undeterred by that shot, Fiziev came back with a huge knee up the middle that clipped Gaethje just before the horn sounded.
The kicks continued to pay dividends for Fiziev including one to the body that definitely seemed to hurt Gaethje momentarily, although he was quick to come back at him with his hands. When the lightweights got locked in the phone booth, Fiziev was blasting away with knees while Gaethje was coming back over the top with huge left and right hooks.
With a close fight through two rounds, Fiziev came out looking for a finish in the third and he nearly got it after clubbing Gaethje with several hard strikes that had the two-time title challenger wobbled. Despite the damage done, Gaethje’s ability to throw bombs even when hurt backed Fiziev off as they continued trading strikes.
Late in the fight, Gaethje started to connect with a stiff jab and then hammering away at Fiziev with some nasty inside uppercuts. Again and again, Gaethje kept finding a home for those same punches as Fiziev had to display some toughness of his own to ensure he made it to the end.
By all accounts that late surge from Gaethje helped him get the win as he fended off a strong effort from Fiziev, who gave him everything he could handle in the UFC 286 co-main event.
Gaethje is now back in a prime position to challenge another top ranked opponent as he seeks to return to title contention in 2023.
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