Justin Gaethje produced a brutal display in a final-round stoppage against Tony Ferguson to become the new interim lightweight champion at the highly anticipated UFC 249.
UFC made its long-awaited return behind closed doors in Jacksonville, Florida on Saturday amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Ferguson was initially due to face unbeaten lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in Brooklyn on April 18, but travel restrictions prevented the Russian star from fighting in the United States.
Gaethje stepped up to meet fellow American Ferguson in the octagon and he dished out relentless punishment to stun the former interim holder in a wild contest.
Ferguson was left bloodied and bruised as a jab to the head shocked the veteran, prompting the referee to crown Gaethje winner by TKO in the fifth round.
It snapped Ferguson's 12-fight winning streak in remarkable fashion.
WHERE WAS THE FIGHT WON?
Gaethje was the aggressor from the outset in the main event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.
No fans were in attendance, but it was a masterclass from Gaethje, who handed out serious punishment to Ferguson – usually the punisher.
Despite Gaethje's power and dominance, Ferguson managed to absorb the strikes and even rattled his opponent with a right-handed uppercut at the end of the second round.
But the writing was on the wall, as plain and simply, Gaethje beat up Ferguson with devastating strikes to the head, body and legs.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
A genuine star was born in Jacksonville. Gaethje had three consecutive stoppages entering the fight but none were as impressive as Saturday. It sets up a mouth-watering showdown against Khabib.
THEY SAID WHAT?
"I'll wait for the real one," Gaethje said as he threw away the interim belt inside the octagon.
NEW RECORDS (W-L-D):
REST OF THE CARD
Henry Cejudo announced his shock retirement after retaining his bantamweight title against Dominick Cruz.
Cejudo (16-2) scored a contentious second-round TKO over two-time former titleholder Cruz (22-3), who tried to survive a barrage of punches.
The co-main event was stopped at 4:50 of the second round before ex-flyweight champion Cejudo surprisingly called time on his UFC career.