TUF 25 results: Justin Gaethje makes insane UFC debut, TKOs Michael Johnson

The UFC just might have found its own version of Arturo Gatti.

The comparisons to the late Hall of Fame boxer and all-time action star began for Justin Gaethje long before Friday's UFC debut at "The Ultimate Fighter" finale in Las Vegas. But the former World Series of Fighting lightweight champion put on a comeback for the ages that won't soon be forgotten.

In a two-round war which produced clear candidates for Round and Fight of the Year, Gaethje rallied twice from the brink of defeat to stop lightweight veteran Michael Johnson at 4:48 of the second round at T-Mobile Arena.

Gaethje (18-0), who signed with UFC in May, instantly pleaded with the company to provide him with the "baddest lightweight" available. Then, he went out and backed it up inside the Octagon.

"Who's next? Who's next? Where's my equal, I want to meet him," Gaethje said. "I want to meet him right now.

"Where's my equal at? I'm 18-0 with 16 knockouts. Where is my equal? That's what I want. Where is he?"

Gaethje, 28, just might have proven on Friday there simply isn't anyone on his level in terms of a reckless willingness to enter war while retaining the patience to systematically break down his opponent. The Arizona native fought through tremendous punishment against the quick-handed Johnson (17-12) only to outlast him by chopping him down with leg strikes and finishing him off with knees to the face against the cage.

"It feels fantastic. I love this. You can not break me, I promise you," Gaethje said. "Drop me all you want, you better put me to sleep or else I'm coming for your legs, I'm coming for your body. Who is next?"

Johnson, 31, spent the entire buildup to the fight saying he wasn't interested in entering into a war with Gaethje. But as soon as the fight started, a war is what fans received as Johnson stood at close range and proceeded to fight the kind of battle that better suited his opponent.

To Johnson's credit, he got the better of Gaethje for the first half of the first round, using his quicker hands to land a series of straight left hands and counter combinations. Gaethje slowly worked to gain his respect, mostly with hard outside leg kicks and body punches. Soon, both fighters began to brawl in the center of the cage.

But just as it seemed like Gaethje's persistence, despite getting lit up, was slowly wearing Johnson down, the southpaw badly wobbled Gaethje with a vicious right hook to the chin. Johnson followed up and took Gaethje down before continuing to tee off on him until the bell, ending an incredible five minutes of action.

"I have the best coach, Trevor Wittman. For 12 weeks he said, 'Start low and you will get a nice knockout.' And I did," Gaethje said. "[Johnson] landed a great uppercut. [Referee] 'Big' John [McCarthy] said I was almost out. I was never out of that fight. Never."

If Round 1 ended badly for Gaethje, the second stanza was nearly over before it started. Johnson caught up early with a big right hand that wobbled Gaethje, who showed swelling below his left eye. Johnson landed a knee to the face and appeared to have Gaethje on the verge of a stoppage.

But ever so slightly, Gaethje kept throwing back and continued to come forward. Soon, a right uppercut from Gaethje proved to be the turning point of the fight as he bloodied and badly wobbled Johnson. After a series of right hand follow ups, Gaethje began to tee off against the cage and showed tremendous patience in picking Johnson apart with kicks and forearms to the head.

After a jumping knee to the face from Gaethje added further damage, McCarthy jumped in to stop the fight with just 12 seconds remaining in the round.

An excited Gaethje attempted to climb the cage as the crowd went berserk and fell backwards during the first attempt. But the second attempt was perfect as he landed a breathtaking moonsault from the top of the cage wall.

Gaethje went on to sum up his exciting UFC debut by saying, "Octagon jitters my butt."

When all was said and done, Gaethje (104) and Johnson (91) combined for 195 significant strikes landed in just shy of two rounds in an incredible war.

Despite controlling the fight early, the loss for Johnson was his second straight and fourth in his last five appearances.

CBS Sports Insider

Brian Campbell covers MMA, boxing and WWE. The Connecticut native joined CBS Sports in 2017 and has covered combat sports since 2010. He has written and hosted various podcasts and digital shows for ESPN... Full Bio

Show Comments Hide Comments
Our Latest Stories
    CBS Sports Shop