Brian Campbell cbs sports
After Tony Ferguson’s planned UFC 249 fight with lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov fell apart, fans were given the ultimate consolation prize: an interim title fight between Ferguson and Justin Gaethje. Gaethje took full advantage of the opportunity, battering Ferguson over five rounds of action before scoring a late TKO to collect a championship belt at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.
Both men started Round 1 with a cautious approach before Gaethje (22-2) began throwing massive, winging punches in between heavy leg kicks. Never one to back down from a fight, Ferguson (25-4) began to fire back with a nearly mirrored attack, though it was Ferguson’s chin getting the biggest test in the early stages of the fight.
The left hook of Gaethje continued to land with significant impact into Round 2, but he stuck to the plan of landing sharp leg kicks to keep Ferguson from getting into a comfortable rhythm. Ferguson turned up his offensive output down the stretch of the second round only to be cut off again by leg kicks and heavy Gaethje punches. In the final seconds of the round, Ferguson dropped Gaethje with a massive uppercut that could have ended the fight had Gaethje not been saved by the bell.
Gaethje recovered from the knockdown heading into the third round, landing more heavy punches and cutting Ferguson, causing significant swelling around his left eye. Still, Ferguson’s relentless march forward continued, landing sporadically in between the massive bombs of Gaethje.
In Round 4, the stone jaw of Ferguson finally started to crack. For the first time, Ferguson’s legs buckled after another Gaethje right hand. Moments later, Ferguson was back in front of Gaethje, digging to the body and throwing left hooks to the head. All the while, Gaethje’s relentless leg-kick attack continued to take its toll on Ferguson.
The brutality didn’t stop in the final round, with Gaethje hammering Ferguson and sending him stumbling repeatedly. After almost five full rounds of absolute domination, a Gaethje jab caused Ferguson to shake his head and stumble backward with his arms and legs seeming to betray him. Referee Herb Dean jumped in to call a halt to the bout at the 3:39 mark of Round 5.
In winning the fight, Gaethje ran his current winning streak to four and may have put the final nail in the coffin of a clash between Ferguson and Nurmagomedov, a fight the UFC has attempted to book on five separate occasions.
“I’m waiting for the real one,” Gaethje said after removing the interim belt and tossing it aside. “I knew I was a killer stepping in here. I’m good bro. No better drug on earth than adrenaline coursing through my veins.
“I have a world-class coach. I had to lose to change. You can’t fix what’s broken. Once I understood what was wrong, I was getting hit too much and I was having too much fun. Both times I lost, I was having too much fun. At this level, you can not do that.”
Ferguson had a 12-fight winning streak snapped. The streak dated back to 2013 and included a brief stint as interim champion. It remains to be seen where he goes from here after having a title shot in his hands and taking an interim title fight instead.
UFC 249 card and results
Justin Gaethje (ic) def. Tony Ferguson via fifth-round TKO (punches)
Henry Cejudo (c) def. Dominick Cruz via second-round TKO (punches)
Francis Ngannou def. Jair Rozenstruik via first-round TKO (punches)
Calvin Kattar def. Jeremy Stephens via second-round knockout (elbow)
Greg Hardy def. Yorgan de Castro via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Anthony Pettis def. Donald Cerrone via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Aleksei Oleinik def. Fabricio Werdum via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Carla Esparza def. Michelle Waterson via split decision (30-27, 27-30, 29-28)
Vicente Luque def. Niko Price via third-round TKO (doctor stoppage)
Bryce Mitchell def. Charles Rosa via unanimous decision (30-25, 30-25, 30-24)
Ryan Spann def. Sam Alvey via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)