Justin Gaethje’s skills -- and will -- play quite well inside the Octagon.
The former World Series of Fighting titleholder dazzled in his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut, as he took out Michael Johnson with punches and knees in “The Ultimate Fighter” 25 Finale headliner on Friday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Johnson (17-12) wilted under an unforgiving assault 4:48 into Round 2, the 31-year-old winding up on the short end of the stick in a “Fight of the Year” contender.
Gaethje (18-0) was as relentless as ever, marching forward through blistering punches from “The Menace.” Johnson rocked him with a clean right hook late in the first round and dazed him again with a straight left early in the second. Gaethje refused to go away. The longtime Trevor Wittman understudy recovered, locked horns with Johnson in the center of the cage and delivered a savage knee strike to the body that had his counterpart grimacing in retreat. Gaethje followed with a short right uppercut to the face and then flurried with everything in his sadistic arsenal: punches, leg kicks, a flying knee and standing elbows. He pinned Johnson to the fence and sat him down with another knee upstairs. By then, referee John McCarthy had seen enough.
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Taylor Throttles Lima in Tournament Final
Former Cage Warriors Fighting Championship titleholder Jesse Taylor submitted Dhiego Lima with a second-round rear-naked choke in “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 25 welterweight tournament final. Lima (12-6) bowed out 43 seconds into Round 2.
Taylor (31-15) dominated the first round. The 33-year-old Team Quest mainstay executed a takedown inside the first 90 seconds and smashed Lima with elbows and forearm strikes before climbing to the back. Taylor threatened with two rear-naked chokes and closed the frame in full mount, raining punches on the Atlanta-based Brazilian.
Lima floored Taylor with a counter left hook to start the second round and swarmed for a potential finish. In his haste to follow up, he left himself exposed. Taylor grabbed at his legs, snuck behind him in a subsequent scramble and secured his position with hooks. The rear-naked choke was in place soon after, prompting the reluctant tapout from Lima.
Unbeaten Klose Outpoints Diakiese
Drakkar Klose remained undefeated with a split decision over former British Association of Mixed Martial Arts champion Marc Diakiese in a three-round lightweight showcase. Judges Jeff Mullen and Marcos Rosales struck 29-28 scorecards for Klose, while Derek Cleary saw it 29-28 for Diakiese.
Klose (8-0-1) focused his attention on the lower lead leg, peppering the American Top Team representative with kicks to the calf -- a tactic often utilized by MMA Lab stablemate Benson Henderson. Twice he knocked down Diakiese with leg kicks, leaving the explosive Brit compromised and looking for answers. Klose was also effective in close quarters, applying pressure in the clinch with foot stomps and knees. Diakiese (12-1) made his move in the third round, where he slapped Klose in the face with a switch kick, outmaneuvered him on the mat and generally was the busier of the two. His efforts swayed one judge but were not enough to save him from his first defeat.
The 29-year-old Klose has won three fights in a row.
Cannonier Elbows Stop Roehrick
MMA Lab standout Jared Cannonier put away Octagon newcomer Nick Roehrick with third-round elbow strikes in their one-sided but entertaining light heavyweight feature. A short-notice fill-in for Steve Bosse, Roehrick (7-1) succumbed to blows 2:08 into Round 3.
Cannonier (10-2) hammered away at the granite-chinned Elevation Fight Team export with two-, three- and four-punch combinations. His efforts exacted a heavy toll on Roehrick, who was a bruised and bloody mess by the time the third round began. There, Cannonier buzzed him with a head kick, pushed him to the fence and uncorked punches, knees and standing elbows. The Alaska-based Dallas native then powered Roehrick to the canvas, set up shop in top position and blasted away with elbows until referee John McCarthy had seen enough.
Resurgent Tavares Edges Theodorou
Brad Tavares won for the third time in four appearances, as he captured a unanimous verdict from “The Ultimate Fighter Nations” winner Elias Theodorou in a featured middleweight affair. Tavares (15-4) swept the scorecards with 29-28 marks across the board.
Theodorou (13-2) maintained a frenetic pace, cracking the Hawaiian with leg kicks while darting in and out with punches from odd angles. Tavares marched forward, struck effectively in combination and kept the Canadian guessing. The Xtreme Couture rep countered a takedown in the third round by sneaking around to Theodorou’s back and setting his hooks. Tavares threatened with a rear-naked choke and kimura before the two men returned to their feet. He then met an attempted takedown from Theodorou with a head kick in the closing seconds, the two middleweights letting their hands fly until the bell sounded.
Undefeated Johnson Stymies Fortuna
Former Resurrection Fighting Alliance champion Jordan Johnson kept his perfect professional record intact with a unanimous decision over Marcel Fortuna in a three-round light heavyweight showcase. All three cageside judges scored it 29-28 for Johnson (8-0).
Fortuna (9-2) had his moments -- he staggered his 28-year-old counterpart twice in the second round, first with an overhand right and later with a left hook -- but not enough of them to deter the two-time NCAA All-American. Johnson executed takedowns in the first and second rounds before closing the deal in the third, where he threw and landed more often than the Brazilian, firing off sweeping hooks with both hands and sneaking in right uppercuts whenever possible.
The loss snapped Fortuna’s six-fight winning streak.