The one thing that Justin Gaethje said he didn’t want to do — get into a knockdown, drag-out brawl with Rafael Fiziev on Saturday at UFC 286 in London — he did.
Don’t act like you’re surprised, though.
That’s the way Gaethje fights and it’s why it’s made him not only one of its most enduring lightweight contenders but also among the most popular fighters in its history.
He won a majority decision over Fiziev in another wild slugfest Saturday at the O2 Arena in London, England, taking the bout by scores of 29-28 twice and 28-28. Yahoo Sports had it 29-28 for Gaethje.
Gaethje wanted to fight controlled and not go toe-to-toe with Fiziev, who is one of the best kickboxers in the UFC and definitively showed that Saturday.
But Gaethje survived an onslaught early in the third by popping his jab, which allowed him to control the distance and rally in the second half of the third to pull out the win.
“I literally tried not to do that,” Gaethje said of the wild fight he’d just won.
He knew, though, that it was inevitable because of the style that both men faced. Fiziev entered the bout ranked No. 6 at lightweight and had been calling out Gaethje for a while. At No. 3 and coming off losses in two of his last three fights, Gaethje felt the time was right to take it.
“I knew there was no way this fight was not going to be exciting,” Gaethje said.
Gaethje had trouble with Fiziev’s speed in the first, as Fiziev landed a lot of kicks to the body and clearly won the round. But Gaethje tightened it in the second and pulled it out in the third, even though his only takedown came in the final 10 seconds and was inconsequential in terms of the scoring.
Gaethje intimated that he won’t fight a lot longer so he’s hoping to earn another title shot.
“That’s a dangerous motherf***er over there,” Gaethje said of Fiziev. Then, he turned to the roaring O2 crowd and said, “I want to take one more run at the title. I ain’t going to be around much longer, so I’m so glad you guys got to enjoy this.”
The crowd cheered, which was no surprise. That’s what happens in every Justin Gaethje fight.