Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje lived up to his nickname in the main event of UFC on ESPN 2 with a first-round knockout of No. 6 ranked lightweight Edson Barboza. With Barboza backpedaling, Gaethje delivered a right-handed blow that dropped Barboza and erupted the Wells Fargo Center crowd on Saturday.
“I hurt him early, I was surprised to see that,” said Gaethje. “When he went down, I was surprised to see that. And then it was over.”
After a nearly eight-year hiatus, the UFC returned to Philadelphia for the first time since UFC 133 on Aug. 6, 2011.
For the co-main event fight, Jack “The Joker” Hermansson needed just 49 seconds to submit the No. 11 ranked middleweight, David Branch. Hermansson earned his second straight first-round submission victory with the same move to set up a guillotine that years ago he struggled with.
“I couldn’t do it for many years,” said Hermansson. “I started to do it in training and I started to submit everybody with it. I’m just like, ‘Man, I’m good at this’ and now I’m doing it in my fights.”
No. 6 ranked Karolina Kowalkiewicz said prior to her strawweight fight with No. 9 ranked Michelle “The Karate Hottie” Waterson that she didn’t want to hurt Waterson, who is one of her idols. During the fight, she struggled to do much damage to Waterson.
After a first round of feeling each other out, Waterson used a one-arm takedown to take control of the fight.
“The Karate Hottie” got hold of Kowalkiewicz’s right arm and attempted an arm bar submission in the final second of round two, but couldn’t lock it in before the round ended.
After another takedown in the third round, Waterson cruised to an unanimous decision victory scored 30-27 by all three judges. The two takedowns Waterson landed were tied for the most allowed in the career of Kowalkiewicz, who entered the fight defending 87 percent of her opponent’s takedowns.
Following the fight, Waterson was joined by her 8-year-old daughter, Araya, for her press conference where she shared how much having her family’s support means to her.
“That is the best feeling,” said Waterson. “[There is] something about knowing that they’re part of this journey.”
Michael “The Menace” Johnson won over the Philadelphia crowd as he entered the Octagon to Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares.” But it was his opponent, No. 10 featherweight Josh Emmett, who was the crowd favorite after the fight.
Emmett landed an overhand right that devastated Johnson and forced the referee to stop the fight with 46 seconds left in the final round. Johnson had more total strikes, 35-20, but Emmett showed he has that one-punch power that can end a fight at any time.
Prior to the fight, Emmett worked with a mental coach where they focused on the fight ending the same way it did.
“It was that exact punch,” said Emmett. “Landing an overhand right, perfect placement to the chin, and him just out cold, hitting the ground. Walk-off homerun.”
With just 40 seconds left in the fight, Paul Craig submitted Kennedy Nzechukwu with a triangle choke. But it was Craig’s Rocky Balboa impression following the fight that won over the crowd. In his best Balboa voice, Craig gave the crowd a “Yo, Adrian. We did it baby."
In the final preliminary fight, strawweight Marina Rodriguez was subtracted a point in the first round after she poked her opponent Jessica Aguilar in the eye. Rodriguez dominated the fight and won by unanimous decision, evident by Aguilar’s once-white shirt soaked in her own blood as the final horn sounded.
Lightweight Desmond Green delivered the night’s first knockout over Ross Pearson just over two minutes into round one. Green took Pearson down and unleashed a flurry of 17 punches at Pearson until the referee stopped the fight and awarded Green, who had a number of fans from his hometown of Rochester, New York in attendance, the TKO victory.
After the event it was announced that Gaethje vs. Barboza was Fight of the Night while Hermansson and Craig won Performance of the Night awards and the $50 thousand prize that comes with it.