Following a brutal back-and-forth fight that will be among the finalists for the year's best, Justin Gaethje won the interim lightweight title by fifth round TKO over Tony Ferguson at Saturday's UFC 249.
The end came when Gaethje landed a powerful left jab that made Ferguson stumble, the culmination of nearly 25 minutes of absorbing damage. Referee Herb Dean stopped the fight seconds later after another Gaethje punch.
Both men gave as good as they got with Ferguson standing out for taking Gaethje's near-legendary punches repeatedly and still walking him down.
Gaethje threw off the title afterward, saying he wanted the real one. That is owned by current divisional kingpin Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0) who Gaethje is expected to fight by year's end.
The 31-year-old Gaethje (22-2) came into the fight riding a three-fight win streak with consecutive first round knockout finishes over James Vick, Edson Barboza, and Donald Cerrone.
The 36-year-old Ferguson (25-4) was riding a 12-fight win streak dating back to October 2013 which included one interim lightweight title win in 2017 over Kevin Lee.
The event was held in front of an empty arena in Jacksonville, Florida, due to the pandemic. It was originally slated to take place in April in Brooklyn, NY, with Ferguson facing Nurmagomedov in a fight that was attempted to be put together five times.