Justin Gaethje brought brutality with him to America’s heartland.
The former World Series of Fighting champion leveled James Vick with a clubbing overhand right in the first round of their UFC Fight Night 135 headliner on Saturday at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska. An unconscious Vick kissed the canvas 1:27 into Round 1, his climb on the Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight ladder put on hold.
Gaethje bullied his way past the rangy Texan’s jabs and front kicks, closed the distance and backed “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 15 semifinalist to the fence. He distracted Vick with a pawing left hook before he uncorked a devastating right hand that resulted in an immediate stoppage and prompted his celebratory backflip off the top of the cage.
In the aftermath of UFC Fight Night “Gaethje vs. Vick,” here are five fights that ought to be made:
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Justin Gaethje vs. Kevin Lee: Gaethje rebounded from consecutive losses to from former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez and American Top Team’s Dustin Poirier, and he did so in resounding fashion. While his well-documented defensive deficiencies remain, the Safford, Arizona, native nevertheless evened his UFC record at 2-2 with his one-punch knockout of Vick in the main event, all while showing the skills and grit that have made him a fan favorite. Lee reaffirmed his position as one of the sport’s premier lightweights at UFC Fight Night 128, where he battered Edson Barboza to a fifth-round stoppage on April 21. The 25-year-old Xtreme Couture representative has compiled a 10-3 mark since he signed with the UFC four-plus years ago.
Michael Johnson vs. Makwan Amirkhani: Johnson broke into the win column at 145 pounds, as he survived a near submission in the second round and escaped with a split decision -- 29-28, 27-30, 29-28 -- over Team Alpha Male’s Andre Fili in the featherweight co-main event. “The Menace” answered Fili’s efforts with precision striking, his straight left carrying its customary zip. The victory was Johnson’s first since he knocked out the aforementioned Poirier nearly two years ago. Amirkhani won for the fourth time in five starts inside the Octagon on May 27, when the SBG Ireland standout eked out a split decision over Jason Knight. “Mr. Finland” has delivered nine of his 14 career victories by submission.
Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Joseph Benavidez-Ray Borg winner: The waves Figueiredo has created at 125 pounds have become increasingly difficult to ignore. The unbeaten Brazilian pushed his record to 15-0, as he disposed of John Moraga with a savage left hook to the body in the second round of their flyweight feature and announced his arrival as a legitimate contender. Moraga wilted 3:08 into the middle stanza, his three-fight winning streak having run its course. Since joining the UFC roster in June 2017, Figueiredo has defeated Moraga, Joseph Morales, Jarred Brooks and Marco Beltran. Benavidez and Borg will lock horns at UFC Fight Night 139 on Nov. 10.
Cortney Casey-Sanchez vs. Nina Ansaroff: Casey-Sanchez put back-to-back defeats to Michelle Waterson and Felice Herrig in her rearview mirror, as she outstruck former Invicta Fighting Championships titleholder Angela Hill to a split decision. Judges Sal D’Amato and Matt Prieto saw it 29-28 for Casey-Sanchez, while Glenn Trowbridge struck a 30-27 scorecard in Hill’s favor. Casey-Sanchez was slightly busier, often answering Hill’s single strikes with two, three or four of her own. On a run of three straight wins, Ansaroff last fought at UFC on Fox 30 in July, when she was awarded a unanimous decision over Randa Markos.
Eryk Anders vs. Alessio Di Chirico: Anders overcame a sluggish start to flatten onetime Cage Fury Fighting Championships titleholder Tim Williams with a third-round head kick in their middleweight showcase. Williams met his end 4:42 into Round 3 while he was attempting to return to his feet. The 31-year-old Anders rebounded from his split decision loss to Lyoto Machida in February, as the former University of Alabama linebacker recorded the seventh knockout of his career. Di Chirico, 28, has recorded back-to-back victories. He last appeared at “The Ultimate Fighter 27” Finale on July 6, when he took a split decision from Julian Marquez and improved to 3-2 in the UFC.