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The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s lightweight division has remained at the forefront of headlines, with Khabib Nurmagomedov’s successful title defense against Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor’s continued antics outside the Octagon. The 155-pound weight class was also showcased at UFC Fight Night 158 on Saturday in Vancouver, British Columbia, where Donald Cerrone and Justin Gaethje clashed in the main event before a crowd of 15,114 at Rogers Arena.
Gaethje extended his current winning streak to three fights and captured his seventh straight post-fight performance bonus with a first-round technical knockout. “The Highlight” now stands near the front of the line for a shot at the undisputed lightweight crown. Though most expect Ferguson to challenge Nurmagomedov next, Gaethje plans to be the one who receives the second call.
“I’ll wait for the winner,” Gaethje said during the ESPN+ post-fight show. “I need eight to 10 to 12 weeks to train for a fight. I don’t want to step in last minute. I won’t be ready for a fight, but it will be hard to say no if someone gets hurt.”
The 30-year-old was poised in his showdown with “Cowboy,” as he picked apart Cerrone with hard leg kicks and powerful hooks and uppercuts from the pocket. A former NCAA Division I All-American wrestler, Gaethje now has many predicting that he could be the one to solve the riddle of the undefeated Nurmagomedov.
“If you’re a lightweight in the world right not and you watch me perform, you know I’m a problem,” Gaethje said. “I’m going to kick his leg off. It’s going to take four or five of those. Everyone tries to run and get away from wrestling. In order to stop a takedown, you have to meet force with force. That’s what you do, and that is what I will do. I will go in there and embrace the grind. I will put my coach on my ass three days a week, and he will kick my ass over and over again and I will be in shape. If I’m in shape, then I don’t get tired. If I don’t get tired, then I am explosive. If I am explosive, then you are in trouble.”
Before the main event clash, many media members and fans were touting Cerrone-Gaethje as the McGregor sweepstakes, with the victor battling the Irishman next. Those expectations were even shared by former UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight champion turned color commentator Daniel Cormier. The former two-weight champion asked Gaethje about a date with McGregor during their Octagon interview. The main event winner seemed disinterested in the hypothetical matchup, claiming that McGregor was “retired.” However, Gaethje changed his tune on the ESPN+ post-fight show.
“If he is going to fight, I definitely want to fight him.” Gaethje said. “He punched an old man in the face. I want to [expletive] him up for that.”
Cerrone was struck down by a devastating uppercut and right hook that sent him crashing to the ground on all fours. Despite being on the wrong side of some unanswered shots before the finish, “Cowboy” appeared to think the fight had been stopped prematurely and could be seen pleading his case to referee Jerin Valel. After gathering his thoughts, Cerrone appeared to change his mind.
“I got no excuses,” Cerrone said in an interview with broadcaster John Gooden. “I don’t know what to say. It sucks to get your ass whooped that fast.
The fight marked Cerrone’s 33rd appearance inside the Octagon, tying him with Jim Miller for most all-time. However, has now suffered two consecutive defeats, leaving many to wonder what comes next for the 36-year-old.
“Winning is cool. Losing sucks,” Cerrone said. “It’s like the journey, you know what I mean? Yeah, my head’s down. It’s like what I’m going to tell my boy: ‘I’m going to give you 24 hours to have a little self-doubt, and then tomorrow morning when you wake up, you better be a brand-new man. Let all this go behind you, and we start over and we go again.’ Moping around … I just get today to do it. Then tomorrow, I got to figure out what’s next. I’m not going anywhere. I’m not going to retire anytime soon.”
Canadian-born fighters went a combined 1-3 at UFC Fight Night 158, but the lone victor, Tristan Connelly, managed to pull off the biggest upset of the event with a unanimous decision over Michel Pereira. The flashy Brazilian appeared to empty his gas tank by attempting high-energy Capoeira maneuvers, which wowed the crowd but did little to benefit him.
“I was like, ‘Go for it, buddy. You want to waste some energy? You had a hard weight cut. I didn’t,’” the debuting Connelly said. “I know how tough I am. As soon as he hit me once, I said, ‘He’s screwed.’ I knew I just had to walk [him] down, tire him out and win the fight.”
A short-notice substitution for Sergey Khandozhko, Connelly will carry a five-fight winning streak into his next assignment.
SECOND OF ITS KIND
Misha Cirkunov managed to pull off a rarely seen submission, as the Canada-based Latvian executed the second successful Peruvian necktie -- C.B. Dollaway delivered the first more than a decade ago -- in UFC history by tapping Jim Crute with the maneuver in the first round.
“It’s a beautiful choke,” Cirkunov said. “Not many people play it. I love those chokes. Jiu-jitsu is such a beautiful sport. There are so many finishes. It is such a great game.”
After the win, the Xtreme Couture export shifted his focus to a possible next opponent. Though Corey Anderson has been booked opposite Johnny Walker at UFC 244 on Nov. 2, Cirkunov called for a fight with the man they call “Overtime.”
“Back in the day, I was reading any article and he called me out,” Cirkunov said. “He said certain things that didn’t happen. I didn’t have an interaction with him. He is ranked pretty high, and he comes to our gym all the time. He is there and is looking at me. I kind of look at him saying, ‘What are you doing here? This is my gym.’ I want to let him know I’m not training at the gym with him because I want to fight him.”