Justin Gaethje's continues his warpath in pursuit of a UFC lightweight championship before he calls it a career. Gaethje proved he still has what it takes at the highest level while living up to his reputation as the sport's most violent fighter in a three-round war with Rafael Fiziev at UFC 286 on Saturday night.
The two combatants sounded like a drumline battle. Each bludgeoning blow produced an audible bang or thud. It was a testament not only to their power but also to each man's durability. Gaethje nearly knocked Fiziev off his feet with the first kick he threw. Fiziev snapped combinations like bolts of lightning. Every part of the body was targeted over the course of 15 minutes yet neither man wavered.
A ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR THESE WARRIORS 👏 #UFC286 pic.twitter.com/xPfcxAC85l— UFC (@ufc) March 18, 2023
The competitive spirit between Gaethje and Fiziev was alive and well. Fiziev repeatedly talked trash between his blitzes while Gaethje maintained a sense of humor despite the grueling pace.
It appeared for a moment that the end was near early in Round 3. Fiziev repeatedly froze Gaethje with strikes that would have eliminated most welterweights, not to mention the lightweight division. Yet Gaethje -- as he's done so many times -- persevered and cranked the pressure. Fiziev's had cuts and welts all over his face by the time the fight was over. An uppercut in the final 30 seconds was certainly Gaethje's most significant blow. Round 1 likely belonged to Fiziev, Round 2 was a tossup and Round 3 was certainly Gaethje's most decisive round despite the early scare. The judges favored Gaethje as he took home cards of 29-28 and 29-28 with a third judge calling it a draw at 28-28.
"I'm taking one more run at the title, but I won't be around for much longer," Gaethje told UFC commentator Daniel Cormier in a post-fight interview at the O2 Arena in London, England. "So I'm so glad you guys could be here to enjoy this with me. Thank you, guys."
The fight was so typical of Gaethje that the most shocking news coming out of the bout was the takedown he secured in the fight's final seconds. Gaethje, an accomplished collegiate wrestler, secured the first takedown of his 11-fight UFC career on Fiziev.
Gaethje improved to 24-4 overall with his only losses in the last five years coming against Khabib Nurmagomedov and Charles Oliveira in world title fights. Fiziev dropped to 12-2 and snapped a six-fight win streak.
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