"You get one life and I'm living a crazy one and it's so awesome. I can't wait for that challenge (fighting Khabib Nurmagomedov) win or lose, don't care, I'm going to give it 100 % that's all I ever do." -@Justin_Gaethje reacts to winning the interim @UFC lightweight belt #UFC249 pic.twitter.com/wlRIqCOR00— UFC News (@UFCNews) May 10, 2020
After Tony Ferguson's planned UFC 249 fight with lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov fell apart, fans were given the ultimate consolation prize: an interim title fight between Ferguson and Justin Gaethje. Gaethje took full advantage of the opportunity, battering Ferguson over five rounds of action before scoring a late TKO to collect a championship belt at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.
Both men started Round 1 with a cautious approach before Gaethje (22-2) began throwing massive, winging punches in between heavy leg kicks. Never one to back down from a fight, Ferguson (25-4) began to fire back with a nearly mirrored attack, though it was Ferguson's chin getting the biggest test in the early stages of the fight.
The left hook of Gaethje continued to land with significant impact into Round 2, but he stuck to the plan of landing sharp leg kicks to keep Ferguson from getting into a comfortable rhythm. Ferguson turned up his offensive output down the stretch of the second round only to be cut off again by leg kicks and heavy Gaethje punches. In the final seconds of the round, Ferguson dropped Gaethje with a massive uppercut that could have ended the fight had Gaethje not been saved by the bell.
Gaethje recovered from the knockdown heading into the third round, landing more heavy punches and cutting Ferguson, causing significant swelling around his left eye. Still, Ferguson's relentless march forward continued, landing sporadically in between the massive bombs of Gaethje.
In Round 4, the stone jaw of Ferguson finally started to crack. For the first time, Ferguson's legs buckled after another Gaethje right hand. Moments later, Ferguson was back in front of Gaethje, digging to the body and throwing left hooks to the head. All the while, Gaethje's relentless leg-kick attack continued to take its toll on Ferguson.
The brutality didn't stop in the final round, with Gaethje hammering Ferguson and sending him stumbling repeatedly. After almost five full rounds of absolute domination, a Gaethje jab caused Ferguson to shake his head and stumble backward with his arms and legs seeming to betray him. Referee Herb Dean jumped in to call a halt to the bout at the 3:39 mark of Round 5.
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In winning the fight, Gaethje ran his current winning streak to four and may have put the final nail in the coffin of a clash between Ferguson and Nurmagomedov, a fight the UFC has attempted to book on five separate occasions.
"I'm waiting for the real one," Gaethje said after removing the interim belt and tossing it aside. "I knew I was a killer stepping in here. I'm good bro. No better drug on earth than adrenaline coursing through my veins.
"I have a world-class coach. I had to lose to change. You can't fix what's broken. Once I understood what was wrong, I was getting hit too much and I was having too much fun. Both times I lost, I was having too much fun. At this level, you can not do that."
Ferguson had a 12-fight winning streak snapped. The streak dated back to 2013 and included a brief stint as interim champion. It remains to be seen where he goes from here after having a title shot in his hands and taking an interim title fight instead.
Gaethje will likely get his chance at Nurmagomedov next, but he is still trying to live in the moment of what he accomplished on Saturday night.
"I haven't had time to soak it in. I can't wait to watch the fight, I was so good tonight. I truly just believed in my skills and in my coaches and what a great time I just had. It was a great challenge and I'm very happy right now, I can't wait to go home and see my family," Gaethje said. "I know how much happiness I just brought to people and that feels great. I don't have any expectations when I step in there, just be my best self and I was good tonight. My timing is incredible, my coaches were incredible and I was incredible tonight. This is what I was born, raised bred to do. You get one life and I'm living a crazy one and it's so awesome. I can't wait for that challenge, win or lose, I'm going to give it 100% and have one hell of a time."
CBS Sports was with you all evening bringing you results and analysis from UFC 249 in Jacksonville.
UFC 249 card and results
via fifth-round TKO (punches)
via second-round TKO (punches)
via first-round TKO (punches)
via second-round knockout (elbow)
via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Aleksei Oleinik def. Fabricio Werdum via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Carla Esparza def. Michelle Waterson via split decision (30-27, 27-30, 29-28)
via third-round TKO (doctor stoppage)
Bryce Mitchell def. Charles Rosa via unanimous decision (30-25, 30-25, 30-24)
Ryan Spann def. Sam Alvey via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)