Gaethje gets revenge with brutal KO of Poirier

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By JOHN COON The Associated Press

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SALT LAKE CITY — Justin Gaethje knocked out Dustin Poirier with a head kick one minute into the second round to win the main event lightweight bout at UFC 291 on Saturday night.

The third-ranked Gaethje (26-4) celebrated his victory by climbing to the top of the Octagon fence and doing a backflip off it. His perfectly timed headshot helped him avenge a loss to Poirier in 2018 when he suffered a fourth-round technical knockout via strikes.

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“This chance at redemption was amazing,” Gaethje said. “It drove me to work harder to be ready.”

It was Gaethje’s 20th win by knockout or TKO and his seventh victory in his last nine fights. He also scored his first knockout win since UFC 249 in 2020.

“I was surprised by myself and how good I fought,” Gaethje said.

Second-ranked Poirier (29-8) entered the rematch between the two former interim lightweight champions as a minus-152 favorite according to FanDuel. He matched Gaethje blow for blow in the first round – earning a 10-9 advantage on two of three scorecards – before being quickly dispatched in the second.

The decisive high kick from one former champ caught the other by surprise because it wasn’t a move that he expected to see from Gaethje.

“I thought I had four more rounds,” Poirier said. “I didn’t know I had two more minutes.”

With the victory, Gaethje earned a BMF belt – the second UFC fighter to be awarded that belt.

Beating Poirier opens the door for Gaethje to have a potential title bout against the winner of Islam Makhachev and Charles Oliveira, who are set to square off at UFC 294 in October.

Gaethje’s BMF win over Poirier headlined five main card bouts.

Alex Pereira defeated Jan Blachowicz by split decision in a light heavyweight bout billed as the co-main event for his eighth win in his last nine fights.

Pereira (8-2), ranked second as a middleweight, made his debut in the light heavyweight division at UFC 291 after losing the middleweight title belt via knockout to Israel Adesanya at UFC 287 in April. Blachowicz (29-10-1) did not make the transition in weight class a smooth one for the former champion.

He weathered early takedowns in the first two rounds and rallied in the third round.

Derrick Lewis earned a record 14th knockout win over Marcos Rogerio de Lima just 33 seconds into the first round of the heavyweight bout. The 10th-ranked Lewis (27-11) scored an immediate takedown with a flying knee and pummeled 15th-ranked Rogerio de Lima (21-10-1) with repeated punches to score the early finish. He celebrated snapping a three-fight slide by stripping off his shorts and dancing around the Octagon.

“The win means a lot to me,” Lewis said. “I had a lot of pressure on me coming into this fight and I just wanted to prove to everyone I’m still one of the best fighters in the world.”

Bobby Green beat Tony Ferguson by submission via choke with six seconds left in the third round of the lightweight bout. Green (30-14-1) dominated the final two rounds to earn his second career submission, scoring takedowns in both rounds while raining repeated blows that left his opponent battered. He denied Ferguson (26-9) a shot at earning his first UFC victory since 2019, sending the 39-year-old fighter home with his sixth straight loss.

Kevin Holland made quick work of Michael Chiesa to win the welterweight bout. Holland (25-9) beat the 12th-ranked Chiesa – fighting for the first time following a two-year hiatus – by submission at 2:39 in the first round. He used his length and striking abilities to trap Chiesa (18-7) in a D’arce choke, forcing a quick tap out.

Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith, Jazz coach Will Hardy, and former Jazz stars Deron Williams and Karl Malone were among those in attendance at the second UFC pay-per-view event in 11 months in the Beehive State.

UFC reported a live gate of $6.5 million, breaking the previous venue record set at UFC 278 in August 2022. A sellout crowd of 18,467 was in attendance.

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