On what turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining card at UFC Fight Night 135, Justin Gaethje would once again cement himself as a serious Lightweight contender, scoring a vicious highlight-reel knockout over the surging James Vick.
Coming off of two straight knockout losses, Gaethje's victory thrusted himself back into the already crowded 155 pound hunt, leaving the UFC with a interesting question regarding the future of opponent James Vick.
While Gaethje made a hasty call-out of former interim Lightweight champion (#2) Tony Ferguson following his decisive victory, potentially laying the groundwork for him to face the winner of Ferguson’s showdown with (#8) Anthony “Showtime” Pettis at UFC 229, the future for Vick doesn't look quite as clear.
The skyscraper of a 155 pounder has accrued a 12-1 record before meeting Gaethje, where a towering right hand would topple “The Texecutioner” leaving him with his second loss, and what I can only imagine to be a quite the headache.
This loss leaves Sean Shelby’s decision regarding who is next to face James Vick clouded in fog. Hype around Vick was undeservedly quiet despite his 12-1 UFC record, and his decision to scrap with Gaethje on short notice certainly proved he has heart. However, the finishing prowess he showed throughout his impressive run was nowhere to be found in Lincoln, Nebraska, as Vick would wind up laying face-up on the mat in just a shade under 90 seconds.
Is Vick the new gatekeeper for the Lightweight top-15?
At 31 years old, Vick's ceiling is only so high, and with his only loss prior to Gaethje coming at the hands of Beneil Dariush, another former top-15 Lightweight, it seems that very may well be the future for Vick.
As decisive a loss as this may have been, the extremely long Vick has a knack for sneaky submissions despite his not-so-sneaky 6’3 frame. He still remains a tough test for any Lightweight proving to make a name for themselves, and looking to crack the UFC's official rankings.
Being in a division flush with talent, fighters like Olivier Aubin-Mercier and David Teymur seem like natural fits as Vick’s next test. Both fighters have had decent runs of late, and currently hang on the fringes of being ranked in the division, most likely where Vick himself will be found following Saturday’s loss.
The Rest of the Card
I would be remiss not to immediately mention the efforts of Bantamweight Cory Sandhagan, who flashed not only killer finishing instinct, but an inhuman ability to not feel pain during the Fox Sports 2 preliminary card.
Sandhagan evaded UFC veteran Iuri Alcântara's near perfect arm bar attempt and hammerfist onslaught, only to regain his composure and eventually finish Alcântara just a minute into Round 2. Sandhagan not only seemed to earn the respect of the broadcast booth, but earned quite a few new fans in this potential "Fight of the Year" candidate.
If it weren't for Sandhagan's fearless comeback, Middleweight prospect Eryk Anders would have been featured earlier, as he electrified the Pinnacle Bank Arena crowd with a ruthless head kick knockout of Tim Williams with 18 seconds left in the third round.
Taking the decision out of the judges hands, Anders finished with an exclamation point, sizing up his shin to opponent Tim Williams' face in what turned out to be a picture perfect knockout blow.
After a razor thin split decision loss to future UFC Hall of Famer Lyoto Machida at UFC Fight Night 125, the former University of Alabama linebacker finds himself back in the hunt for the Middleweight rankings, and certainly one step closer to legitimizing his immense potential.
What's on Deck?
The UFC will return on Saturday, September, 8 as Tyron Woodley and Darren Till face off for the Welterweight strap in the main event of UFC 228, live from the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.
The card will also feature another title fight as Women's Flyweight champion Nicco Montaño is set to face Valentina Shevchenko for the Women's Flyweight championship.
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