Safford alum Justin Gaethje returns to championship form with a win over Rafael Fiziev in England

Photo Courtesy UFC via Twitter:: Safford native Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje celebrates after defeating Rafael Fiziev by a majority decision at UFC 286 in London.

Rematch with Poirer up for grabs?

By Jon Johnson 

LONDON, ENGLAND – Safford’s favorite fighting native son, Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje returned to championship form at UFC 286 in London, and badly bloodied his opponent as he walked away with the majority decision after three rounds.  

In the co-main event of the night, the current No. 3-ranked and former UFC Interim Lightweight Champion of the World, Gaethje (24-4) took on up comer Rafael Fiziev (12-2). 

Gaethje, known for his striking and thrilling matches, did what he did and threw caution into the wind and, after a tough first round where he caught some hard leg kicks and a brutal knee, he pummeled Fiziev in the second and, especially, third rounds, in London, which was a perfect setting for the knockdown, drag-out brawl.

Gaethje landed a head kick of his own in the second and landed some big right hands as the fighters battled in the second. Gaethje opened Fiziev’s left eye and eyebrow, which would get worse in the third.

Fiziev appeared to stun Gaethje at the start of the third with some heavy-handed shots, but Justin took the barrage and fought back. 

With about 2:20 left in the fight, Gaethje began leveling headshots against Fiziev, causing heavy damage.    

In the end, Gaethje won a majority decision after badly bashing Fiziev’s face and scoring the only takedown of the night in the final 10 seconds. With the win, Gaethje was also awarded a Fight of the Night $50,000 bonus as usual, but could his next match be a rematch of a previous Fight of the Year? 

Immediately afterward, Gaethje again commented on how his fighting career is nearing its end and that he would like to take one more stab at the UFC Lightweight Championship Belt one more time. Gaehtje has had two previous championship bouts, losses against Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 254 on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, and Charles Oliveira in UFC 274 in Phoenix. In both matches, Gaethje fell by choking submissions. 

“I want to take one more run at the title,” Gaethje told the crowd after the fight. I ain’t going to be around much longer, so I’m glad you guys got to enjoy this.” 

To return to that summit Gaethje said he would like to start by avenging his previous losses to Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier at UFC 29, and Oliveria.  

“You know, I did what I had to do — I fought someone ranked below me,” Gaehje said during the post-fight press conference. “I 100 percent believe that I deserve to fight someone ranked in front of me.

“The loser of the Oliveira versus (Beneil) Dariush fight … I’d rather not fight Dariush — I love that dude,” Gaethje continued. “I think he’s going to beat Oliveira. I fought like a complete idiot when I fought Oliveira, so I’d love to have that fight back, but Dustin is a good option.”