Going into Saturday’s UFC Fight Night event from Lincoln, Nebraska the focus was concentrated on the main event between top ten lightweights Justin Gaethje and James Vick.
Despite having only three fights in the UFC, Gaethje has established himself as the closest guarantee to a show-stealing fighter, whose fights with Michael Johnson, Eddie Alvarez, and Dustin Poirier have been among the top fights of the past 13 months.
But, was Gaethje’s style quickly becoming a blueprint for all lightweights to easily figure out? Prior to his entry into the UFC, Gaethje had never tasted the bitter pill of defeat but found himself with consecutive losses heading into Saturday night’s heated bout with James Vick.
The 31-year old had become the best-kept secret within the UFC’s lightweight ranks. That’s a nice way of saying he was constantly overlooked and underappreciated. After emerging from the Ultimate Fighter series in 2012, Vick had gone on a tear with a 9-1 record prior his first UFC main event on Saturday. Following wins over Abel Trujillo, Polo Reyes, Joseph Duffy and Francisco Trinaldo, Vick was about to take a big step with the main event spotlight and an opponent that was sure to produce a candidate for fight-of-the-night. The lead up saw both men attack the other with verbal bombs as a precursor for the ones each had in mind to put on display for the audience in Nebraska.
It was fitting that this fight ended definitively as Gaethje weathered the early attack of kicks from Vick, eliminating the distance as he pressured Vick toward the fence and landed an overhand right that will not soon be forgotten.
From a visual perspective, the sight of Vick collapsing to the canvas as his eyes rolled back was the ultimate endorsement of the power Gaethje is playing with. He notched the 19th victory of his career and reminded the lightweight division that he is both sizzle and steak.
While Gaethje’s callout of Tony Ferguson only confirmed that Gaethje is not up to date on available fighters, it is clear Gaethje will remain a force within the top ten of the UFC’s competitive 155-pound ranks.
When Gaethje entered the UFC in July of last year, it was Michael Johnson who welcomed him with most people’s pick for the best fight of the year. On Saturday, Johnson set out for his first win at his relatively new weight class at featherweight. Johnson met Team Alpha Male fighter Andre Fili with the two fighting to a razor-thin split decision that went in favor of Johnson.
It was Johnson’s first win at 145 pounds and snapped a three-fight losing skid that dated back to his days at lightweight.
The southpaw kept a strong pace throughout the fight but ran into a takedown from Fili in the second round that resulted in his back being taken and fighting out of a bad position through most of the round. With the fight even going into the final frame, they engaged in a third round that could have gone either way. Fili attempted a pair of head kicks that were partially blocked while Johnson continued with his left-handed offensive approach while unsuccessful in taking Fili to the mat.
Strawweights Cortney Casey and Angela Hill had another close fight with Casey finding herself in the unusual spot of being on the right side of a split decision.
In the first two rounds, it was Casey out landing Hill, but the numbers didn’t paint how close each round was. Hill had her best round in the third where she increased her pressure and solidified the round with an uppercut near the expiration of the fight.
After losing her last two fights by split decision, Casey was the one awarded the fight as she improved to 8-6.
Following a 13-year career, Jake Ellenberger announced his retirement in his home state of Nebraska following his most recent loss, this time to Bryan Barberena.
There was no doubt or questions left for Ellenberger, who was dropped with a short right hand, attempted to get back to his feet and ate another right and was finished with strikes in the opening round. It was the fourth consecutive loss for Ellenberger, who has seen only one victory since July 2015 against six defeats.
For Barberena, he walked into enemy territory, retired the home state hero and now claims victories over both Ellenberger brothers, Jake and Joe.
In the flyweight division, a new name has emerged as a contender and it is Deiveson Figueiredo. The Brazilian kept his unbeaten streak running with a second-round stoppage of former title challenger John Moraga after dropping the Arizona native with a body shot and finishing with elbows.
Figueiredo, through translator Wallid Ismail, stated he wants to fight for the flyweight title after improving to 15-0 with four wins since entering the UFC.
The main card opened with Eryk Anders winning with a spectacular head kick to end the night for a tough Tim Williams, who came in as the largest underdog on the show.
Anders was a -1000 favorite but had to work for his arm to be raised at the end of the fight. The fight was in jeopardy heading into the final minute of the fight as Williams had proved to be leaps and bounds above the +600 tag oddsmakers had placed on him. After landing a spinning back fist, it appeared Williams may be able to pull off the upset, but after getting up from the mat, he was blasted with a kick just as he took his hand off the canvas to render the kick legal.
This was Anders’ first fight since a close split decision loss to Lyoto Machida this past February and certainly shouldn’t be the last of Tim Williams, who performed admirably.
The highlight of the preliminary card featured one of the best rounds of 2018 with the opening round between Cory Sandhagen and Iuri Alcantara. It appeared the fight would be a quick submission by Alcantara, who trapped the arm of Sandhagen and twisted at an alarming angle, which Sandhagen later said caused a pop in the arm. Sandhagen amazingly escaped the submission and then took over the round with vicious ground and pound and not only won the round but was worthy of being a 10-8 round after nearly being finished at the start of it. Sandhagen dropped Alcantara at the start of the second round and administered more damage than was necessary before the fight was stopped.
Below are the full results from the UFC’s Fight Night card in Lincoln, Nebraska:
*Justin Gaethje def. James Vick by KO at 1:28 of Round 1
*Michael Johnson def. Andre Fili by split decision (29-28, 27-30, 29-28)
*Cortney Casey def. Angela Hill by split decision (30-27, 28-29, 29-28)
*Bryan Barberena def. Jake Ellenberger by TKO at 2:26 of Round 1
*Deiveson Figueiredo def. John Moraga by TKO at 3:08 of Round 2
*Eryk Anders def. Tim Williams by KO at 4:42 of Round 3
*James Krause def. Warlley Alves by TKO at 2:28 of Round 2
*Cory Sandhagen def. Iuri Alcantara by TKO at 1:01 of Round 2
*Andrew Sanchez def. Markus Perez by unanimous decision (29-28 all)
*Mickey Gall def. George Sullivan by rear-naked choke at 1:09 of Round 1
*Joanne Calderwood def. Kalindra Faria by triangle armbar at 4:57 of Round 1
*Drew Dober def. Jon Tuck by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-27)
*Rani Yahya def. Luke Sanders by heel hook at 1:31 of Round 1