Justin Gaethje might as well be swinging Thor’s hammer.
The former World Series of Fighting titleholder inched ever closer to an elusive shot at the Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight crown, as he dusted Donald Cerrone with a counter right hand and follow-up punches in the first round of their UFC Fight Night 158 main event on Saturday at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia. Cerrone met his end 4:18 into Round 1, and despite his initial protest, he soon seemed to conclude that the stoppage was just.
Gaethje zeroed in on his opponent’s lead leg while cutting loose with hooks and uppercuts to the head. Late in the first round, Cerrone charged forward and walked into a right hook from the Trevor Wittman protégé. The impact briefly dropped “Cowboy” and left him susceptible to further punishment. Gaethje closed the distance and uncorked a pair of right uppercuts before driving Cerrone to a kneeling position with another right hook. A few more punches followed until referee Jerin Valel had seen enough.
In the aftermath of UFC Fight Night “Cowboy vs. Gaethje,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
Justin Gaethje vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov-Tony Ferguson winner: A little more than two years after he made his Octagon debut, Gaethje could be closing in on an opportunity to fight for the undisputed UFC lightweight championship. The 30-year-old Safford, Arizona, native has rebounded from consecutive losses to Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier with three straight first-round finishes, affirming his place as one of the company’s premier competitors at 155 pounds. Where he goes from here remains to be seen, but the options for Gaethje appear to include former champion Conor McGregor. While not yet announced, expectations have Nurmagomedov defending the lightweight crown against Ferguson in the coming months.
Glover Teixeira vs. Volkan Oezdemir: After 17 years and 37 professional fights, Teixeira still has a few miles left to put on the odometer. The former Shooto Brazil champion eked out a split decision over Nikita Krylov in the three-round co-headliner and kept his place in line at 205 pounds with his third win in as many starts. Teixeira, who turns 40 in October, outstruck the Ukrainian by a narrow margin and did just enough to curry favor from two of the cageside judges. Though his days as a serious contender have long since passed, the longtime Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has more than enough experience, skill and guile to play spoiler in the light heavyweight division. Oezdemir last appeared at UFC Fight Night 156, where he knocked out Ilir Latifi in the second round of their encounter on Aug. 10.
Misha Cirkunov vs. Aleksandar Rakic: Cirkunov forced his way back into the light heavyweight discussion by executing just the second Peruvian necktie submission in UFC history, with C.B. Dollaway having authored the first more than a decade ago. Cirkunov’s necktie came at the expense of the previously unbeaten Jim Crute, who raised the white flag 3:38 into Round 1. The Canada-based Latvian appears to have righted himself from a difficult four-fight stretch that saw him go 1-3 with knockout losses to Teixeira, Oezdemir and Johnny Walker. Rakic, 27, continued his surge at UFC Fight Night 153 in June, when he knocked out Jimi Manuwa with a second-round head kick. The Austrian has now rattled off 12 consecutive victories.
Uriah Hall vs. Brad Tavares-Ian Heinisch winner: The mercurial and unpredictable Hall reintroduced himself to the masses by laying claim to a hard-fought split decision over “The Ultimate Fighter Brazil” Season 3 winner Antonio Carlos Jr. A former Ring of Combat champion, the 35-year-old Fortis MMA rep has posted back-to-back wins for the first time since 2015 but remains difficult to peg due to his long track record of inconsistency. Hall figures to draw another difficult assignment out of a group of middle-tier middleweights in the not-too-distant future. Remember, his last four losses have come to Paulo Henrique Costa, Gegard Mousasi, Derek Brunson and Robert Whittaker. Tavares will toe the line against Heinisch at UFC Fight Night 162 on Oct. 26 in Kallang, Singapore.
Augusto Sakai vs. Walt Harris-Alistair Overeem winner: Sakai poses an imminent threat to the rest of the heavyweight division after he mauled onetime M-1 Global champion Marcin Tybura with punches in the featured prelim. Tybura, who had never before been finished with such haste, wilted just 59 seconds into Round 1. Sakai has recorded five straight wins, the last three of them under the Ultimate Fighting Championship banner, and figures to move quickly in an aging weight class. Harris will collide with Overeem on Dec. 7 in the UFC on ESPN 7 main event.