It’s a new year, so Combat Press is taking a look back at the best of MMA in 2017. Throughout the next few weeks, Combat Press will announce its award winners in multiple categories, covering everything from the action in the cage to the biggest stories surrounding the sport.
An unbelievable amount of circumstances have to be present for a MMA fight to be considered the Fight of the Year. The match-up between Justin Gaethje and Michael Johnson featured all of those and then some.
The two lightweights met last summer following on the finale of The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption. Gaethje had enjoyed a tremendous run in the World Series of Fighting (WSOF) where he captured the promotion’s lightweight title and maintained an unblemished record. He also quickly became a fan-favorite due to his violent and often precarious fights. The question of whether or not Gaethje belonged in the UFC would be tasked to perennial contender Michael Johnson. The lightweight has been a mainstay on the UFC’s roster for the past seven years and was believed to provide a good barometer of where Gaethje belonged in the UFC’s lightweight division.
Both men exchanged heated words at the UFC’s Summer Kickoff press conference a few months prior to the bout. Considering Gaethje and Johnson both have a knack for putting on exciting fights, the added bad blood only fueled the fires of speculation of what would happen once the Octagon door was closed.
Whereas some fighters like to use the opening minutes of a fight to feel their opponent out and look for potential openings, both Gaethje and Johnson looked to end the fight as quickly as possible. As the first round came to a close, Gaethje was visibly stunned and it appeared Johnson had provided the perfect “Welcome to the UFC” moment. However, Gaethje’s toughness and will to win saw the former WSOF lightweight champion push through to the second round.
Johnson again had Gaethje on the proverbial ropes as it seemed victory was in his grasp. But this was Justin Gaethje, the man who had made a career of fighting on the edge. Just as it seemed Johnson was going to close the door on Gaethje’s debut, “The Highlight” started to gain ground on his adversary. Walking through Johnson’s offense, Gaethje finally put his opponent in serious trouble after landing a sharp uppercut. As Johnson stumbled back to the cage, Gaethje unloaded with another series of uppercuts and strikes. Johnson would shoot a desperation takedown but Gaethje managed to keep the fight on the feet.
The climactic end came as Gaethje landed a flying knee coupled with some additional strikes to send Johnson to the canvas.
If there was ever a fight for new MMA and UFC fans to check out, this would most certainly be one of them. It featured drama (pre-fight trash talk), elite competitors and insane action inside the cage. This fight had it all.
Other finalists: Lando Vannata vs. David Teymur (UFC 209), Yancy Medeiros vs. Alex Oliveira (UFC 218)
Make sure you check out the rest of the Combat Press 2017 MMA Award winners.