What Next For Justin Gaethje?
By Ross Markey
Emphatic, the only superlative to describe Justin Gaehtje’s knockout win over Edson Barboza on Saturday night in Philadelphia. The durable striker earned his biggest win on the UFC roster, over a really technical and dangerous striker in Brazil’s Barboza.
Entering the contest as a slight underdog, the pressure style which many predicted would result in Edson’s downfall quickly came to fruition midway through the very first round. Trading brutal calf kicks in the opening exchanges, ‘The Hightlight’ then circled and stunned Barboza with a counter shot, causing a mouse to form over the right eye of the Muay Thai practitioner.
Gaethje exacted his infamous forward pressure open guard, frustrating for Barboza who needs optimal range and time to set up his wicked kicks. Barboza once more found himself in a fight with not only his opponent, but the Octagon fence similarly to his fight with division champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. His tendency to circle without feints or creative movements, and even his hands down at times as seen in his flying knee finish of Beneil Dariush, resulted in his ultimate demise as Gaethje clipped him on the end of a right hook, sending the Rio native crashing to the canvas.
So what next for Justin Gaethje?
Al Iaquinta vs. Donald Cerrone winner:
Making his feelings about the often bogus UFC rankings felt after his stoppage win over Barboza, the Arizona native couldn’t comprehend how recent division returner ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone had somehow leapfrogged him into the #7 spot. Well fear no more, Gaethje will certainly find himself at least occupying Edson Barboza’s #6 spot come the update.
The former world champion may be just on win away from a clash with Khabib Nurmagomedov, someone who he believes he causes the most headaches for in both preparation and game plan execution, upon a potential meeting with the undefeated champion. For the time being, ‘The Highlight’ should keep a firm eye on UFC Fight Night Ottawa pairing Al Iaquinta and Donald Cerrone. The April match up is almost sure to produce Gaethje’s next opponent, either foe would present a huge opportunity and an enjoyable match up. Cerrone is as game as they come and the same can be said for Serra-Longo product Iaquinta, who managed to go all twenty-five minutes with Dagestan’s Nurmagomedov.
With a rematch alongside former foe Dustin Poirier out of the question for the time being, and Conor McGregor’s apparent ‘retirement’, Tony Ferguson remains the only viable option for the surging Gaethje. Kevin Lee is trying his luck a division up at welterweight, and it would seem incredibly unfair if ‘El Cucuy’ is once more overlooked by UFC brass for an undisputed title tilt.
Despite his ongoing personal issues, it’s believed Ferguson is keen on an Octagon return despite the ongoing woes, but health should be the number one priority for the former Interim champion. Nevertheless, the clash is a mouth-watering prospect, and a win for either would make them totally irresistible for a title siege.