Is Justin Gaethje Ready For a Title Shot?

A first-round knockout of Donald Cerrone at UFC Fight Night 158 on Saturday edges Justin Gaethje closer to a title shot, and the Arizona fighter wants the winner of Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson.

Gaethje saw off Cerrone with relative ease in Vancouver. Cowboy looked unsettled by the power and forward pressure of Gaethje, who dropped Cowboy twice before the ref called a stop to the fight near the end of the first round.

A 21st professional win for Gaethje, and a third straight win by first-round stoppage. Now a top 4 contender in the lightweight division, Gaethje wants a shot at the title – namely the winner of the as-yet-unconfirmed Khabib-Tony fight.

Red Panty Night for Justin Gaethje?

Overtaking Cerrone to go fourth in the division, only Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier stand between Gaethje and the number one contender Tony Ferguson.

In an interview with ESPN last month, McGregor told Ariel Helwani that he was due to fight Justin Gaethje in June this year but for a hand injury. Gaethje later said that he was unaware of this scheduled ‘fight’ with the Irishman, which now seems unlikely to happen.

The next most likely fight for McGregor is Poirier. The pair exchanged tweets after Poirier loss to Khabib at UFC 242 last month, and fans seem keen on a rematch between the two before the end of the year. That clears the way for Gaethje to fight the winner of Khabib-Tony next year, but is Gaethje ready?

Lightweight Contender

It’s been a turbulent two years for Gaethje. Having won at the TUF Finale against Michael Johnson in 2017, he suffered back-to-back defeats against Eddie Alvarez and Poirier before concluding a three-run streak last weekend.

At only 30-years-old, is Gaethje ready for a shot at the title? He was stopped in his two UFC losses but has come back with three exciting and promising wins. But maybe he needs one more stepping stone on his road to being lightweight champ?

A possible match-up could be against the winner of Al Iaquinta and Dan Hooker at UFC 243 this weekend. Fifth-ranked Iaquinta will be expected to beat Hooker, and with similar brawler-mentality to Gaethje it could make for an enthralling contest.

Justin Gaethje is ranked up their with the top lightweight fighters in the world. He still has the fighting world at his feet and could go on to achieve great things in the sport. Realistically, the winner of McGregor’s next bout will have the next shot at the title, which may leave Gaethje needing another win to earn himself that shot.

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UFC Vancouver: Gaethje hits a hat trick of first round KO’s, stops Cowboy

On Saturday, Vancouver was the host city for a UFC lightweight title eliminator bout between Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone and Justin ‘The Highlight’ Gaethje. In a contest that was highly touted as a fight of the night contender, both fighters carried exciting styles into the cage with them, that tend to keep fans on the edge of their seat. Within four minutes and 18 seconds of the opening round, it was Gaethje who came out the victor, earning his third consecutive finish by KO/TKO.

Gaethje found himself early on being the one just a little bit quicker to the punch, and carried on with the same rhythm as the round was coming to an end. ‘The Highlight’ showed that quickness again, right on time to close the show, catching an oncoming Cerrone with a sharp right hook which sent his opponent face first onto the mat. A tough ‘Cowboy’ looked to stay in the bout, getting back to his feet while still eating some tasty uppercuts, but it was the end of the night for the Colorado native when he received one more viscous right hook from Gaethje that sent him back down to the canvas. The referee would then step in and call a stop to the bout after Cerrone suffered some extra unnecessary shots to head. A late stoppage would be an understatement, which seemed to bother Gaethje, while Cerrone protested the referee’s decision.

While Justin Gaethje is now on a three fight win streak, this is Donald Cerrone’s first time suffering consecutive losses since his winless year in 2017, when he was on the receiving end of three defeats to top contenders such as Jorge Masvidal, Robbie Lawler, and Darren Till. It should come as no surprise to hear Donald Cerrone’s name being mentioned in another highly ranked contest in the next few months though, as we should all know by now that ‘Cowboy’ isn’t one for shying away from battle despite having competed four times this calendar year already. 

This win now puts Gaethje in a great position amongst the other top challengers in the 155lbs division. By right, three wins against top ten contenders should be enough to be in contention for at least a number one contender slot, but it would be almost criminal to deny Tony Ferguson his opportunity against the kingpin of the lightweight division, Khabib Nurmagomedov. 

Immediately after his impressive performance, Gaethje used his mic time in the octagon to make it clear what his plan is next.

“The Irishman’s retired, I want a real fighter, I want the winner of Tony and Khabib,” Gaethje exclaimed. “I want to fight Khabib before he’s gone, and if Tony wins, nobody’s gonna miss that fight, that will put a million people in a stadium.”

Although dismissing the opportunity of squaring up against Conor McGregor, ESPN’s Ariel Helwani announced post fight that it was in fact Gaethje who was scheduled to be Conor McGregor’s comeback fight this past summer, but all negotiations came to a brief end as the Dubliner broke his hand in sparring. With Poirier just coming off a defeat to Khabib, and the champ probably set to fight Ferguson at some point towards the end of the year or in early 2020, it leaves Gaethje free, and I don’t think it’s out of the question for the UFC to offer Gaethje a lucrative contract to welcome “The Notorious” one back to the octagon at the start of next year.

What’s next for Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone following UFC on ESPN+ 16 loss?

(ALSO SEE: Sean Shelby’s Shoes: What’s next for Justin Gaethje and UFC on ESPN+ 16’s other key winners?)

Donald Cerrone suffered his second consecutive loss when he fell short against Justin Gaethje in Saturday’s UFC on ESPN+ 16 headliner.

After putting together a strong run in his return to lightweight, Cerrone (36-13 MMA, 23-10 UFC) has now dropped back-to-back fights after succumbing to a first-round TKO defeat to Gaethje (21-2 MMA, 4-2 UFC) in their lightweight main event, which took place at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and streamed on ESPN+. With the result came some questions about Cerrone’s future.

“Cowboy” has been the most active member of the UFC roster since he joined the organization in 2011, but at 36, he’s hit unfamiliar territory in his career.

What does the loss mean for Cerrone? Watch the video above for thoughts and analysis on his future.

5 biggest takeaways from UFC on ESPN+ 16: From Gaethje’s title shot to Cerrone’s title hopes

What mattered most at UFC on ESPN+ 16 in Vancouver? Here are a few post-fight musings …

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1. Justin Gaethje finds his happy medium

I’ll be the first to admit that when Justin Gaethje (21-2 MMA, 3-2 UFC) talked about altering his style to favor accuracy over output, there were concerns about whether he would be moving too far away from what got him to the dance as a lightweight contender. But who can argue with these results?

Since dropping back-to-back fights and becoming more conscious of his approach to fighting, Gaethje has picked up three consecutive first-round knockout wins, with the latest, of course, coming at the expense of Donald Cerrone (36-13 MMA, 23-10 UFC) in their main event encounter.

Gaethje appears to have found the perfect balance to maximize his skillset, and that should be a scary proposition for everyone at 155 pounds.

UFC on ESPN+ 16 post-event facts: Justin Gaethje’s record bonus run continues

The UFC made its return to Canada on Saturday with UFC on ESPN+ 16, which took place at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, with a 12-fight card that streamed entirely on ESPN+.

Justin Gaethje (21-2 MMA, 4-2 UFC) continued his emergence as a top lightweight contender in the main event when he scored a first-round TKO of Donald Cerrone (36-13 MMA, 23-10 UFC) to extend his winning streak to three fights.

“The Highlight” made some history with his win, but he wasn’t the only one to put his name in the record books. For more, check below for 35 post-event facts to come out of UFC on ESPN+ 16.

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The UFC Promotional Guidelines Compliance payout for the event totaled $151,000.

Debuting fighters went 3-0 at the event.

Gaethje and Misha Cirkunov earned $50,000 UFC on ESPN+ 16 fight-night bonuses. Tristan Connelly received $100,000 in bonus money after his opponent missed weight.

UFC on ESPN+ 16 drew an announced attendance of 15,114 for a live gate of $1,334,931.56.

Betting favorites went 6-5 on the card. One fight ended in a no-contest.

Betting favorites improved to 14-15 (one fight had even odds) in UFC headliners this year.

Total fight time for the 12-bout card was 2:02:41.

Main card

Gaethje has earned 19 of his 21 career victories by stoppage.

Gaethje has earned all four of his UFC victories by knockout.

Gaethje is the only fighter in UFC history to win at least one fight-night bonus in each of his first six octagon appearances.

Gaethje has been awarded seven fight-night bonuses in six UFC appearances.

Gaethje’s seven UFC fight-night bonuses since 2017 are most of any fighter in the company.

Cerrone fell to 2-2 since he returned to the UFC lightweight division in January 2019.

Glover Teixeira’s (30-7 MMA, 13-5 UFC) 13 victories in UFC light heavyweight competition are tied for third most in divisional history behind Jon Jones (19) and Ryan Bader (15).

Nikita Krylov (25-7 MMA, 7-5 UFC) fell to 1-2 since he returned to the UFC for a second stint in September 2018.

Krylov fell to 9-5 since he dropped to the light heavyweight division in March 2014.

Krylov suffered the first decision loss of his career.

Connelly (14-6 MMA, 1-0 UFC) earned the first decision victory of his career.

Antonio Carlos Junior (10-4 MMA, 7-4 UFC) fell to 6-3 (with one no contest) since he dropped to the UFC middleweight division in June 2015.

Carlos Junior has suffered three of his four career losses by decision.

Misha Cirkunov (15-5 MMA, 6-3 UFC) has earned 13 of his 15 career victories by stoppage. That includes all six of his UFC wins.

Cirkunov’s five submission victories in UFC light-heavyweight competition are tied with Jon Jones and Teixeira for most in divisional history.

Cirkunov earned the second Peruvian necktie submission in UFC history. C.B. Rollaway also accomplished the feat.

Jim Crute (10-1 MMA, 2-1 UFC) had his 10-fight winning streak snapped for the first defeat of his career.

Preliminary card

Augusto Sakai (14-1-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC) has earned 11 of his 14 career victories by stoppage. That includes all three of his UFC wins.

Sakai’s three-fight UFC winning streak in heavyweight competition is tied with Francis Ngannou and Maurice Greene for the longest active streak in the division.

Marcin Tybura (17-6 MMA, 4-5 UFC) fell to 1-4 in his past five fights dating back to June 2017.

Tybura has suffered all four of his career stoppage losses by knockout.

Cole Smith (7-1 MMA, 1-1 UFC) had his seven-fight winning streak snapped for the first defeat of his career.

Brad Katona (8-2 MMA, 2-2 UFC) has suffered consecutive losses after starting his career on an eight-fight winning streak.

Katona has suffered both of his career losses by decision.

Chas Skelly (18-4 MMA, 7-4 UFC) earned his first decision victory since Sept. 5, 2014 – a span of 1,835 days (more than five years) and eight fights.

Jordan Griffin (17-7 MMA, 0-2 UFC) has suffered both of his UFC losses by decision.

Louis Smolka (16-6 MMA, 7-6 UFC) improved to 2-1 since he returned to the UFC for a second stint in November 2018. He’s 5-1 since his initial release from the organization.

Smolka improved to 2-1 since he moved up to the UFC bantamweight division in November 2018.

Smolka has earned 14 of his 16 career victories by stoppage. That includes five of his seven UFC wins.

Ryan MacDonald (10-2 MMA, 0-2 UFC) has suffered consecutive losses after starting his career 10-0.

MacDonald suffered the first knockout loss of his career.

Kyle Prepolec (12-7 MMA, 0-2 UFC) has suffered both of his UFC losses by decision.

UFC research analyst and live statistics producer Michael Carroll contributed to this story. Follow him on Twitter @MJCflipdascript.