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TUF 25 Finale results: Justin Gaethje rallies to beat Michael Johnson in epically violent affair

Michael Johnson gets hit by Justin Gaethje in TUF 25 FInale on Friday night.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

LAS VEGAS — Those who never saw Justin Gaethje perform in World Series of Fighting might have thought all the talk of his highlight-reel finishes and violent battles were hyperbole.

In reality, perhaps we all undersold Gaethje heading into his UFC debut.

Gaethje finished Michael Johnson by TKO at 4:48 of the second round in the main event of The Ultimate Fighter 25 Finale on Friday night in Las Vegas in one of the most incredible nights for a UFC debutante ever. It’ll almost certainly be a top contender for Fight of the Year — if not the clear winner.

Johnson rocked Gaethje and had him nearly finished in the first. He then wobbled Gaethje again in the second.

But the thing about Gaethje is when he’s in trouble, he actually fires back even harder. Eventually, Johnson stopped being able to take the pressure. A right hand put Johnson on jelly legs and then Gaethje threw the kitchen sink at him — leg kicks, uppercuts, flying knees.

It was over soon after and the fans at T-Mobile Arena were on their feet chanting “Gaethje!”

Gaethje capped the performance by climbing on the cage, slipping and falling, but then climbing up again and hitting a back flip to the Octagon canvas. That was a modicum of the night — he didn’t give up and kept marching ahead.

“Who’s next?!” Gaethje screamed afterward. … “Where is my equal?! Where is he?!”

Gaethje (18-0), the former WSOF lightweight champ, might not have just earned himself a top lightweight contender in the UFC, he might have just made himself into one of the most popular fighters in the sport. That kind of performance — that kind of heart — can change careers and make fighters boatloads of money. Gaethje, 28, showed off an iron chin and an even stronger will — and UFC fans are going to adore him for that moving forward.

Johnson (17-12) has lost two in a row now, but is certainly considered one of the top 10 or 15 best lightweights in the world. Gaethje’s victory was no small feat, in how he won and who he beat.

In the co-main event, Jesse Taylor completed one of the most incredible personal comebacks in MMA history. He finished Dhiego Lima by submission with a rear-naked choke at :43 of the second round to win The Ultimate Fighter 25 — and the $290,000 check to go along with it.

Taylor was the most famous TUF wash out. He was removed from The Ultimate Fighter 7 finals in 2008 after a drunken disaster of a night that saw him break a limo window and harass women at a Las Vegas casino. He lost in his only UFC fighter thereafter and led a journeyman career, even forced to sleep on the San Diego beach for a few weeks some years ago.

Nine years later, he was back on the “Redemption” season of TUF and won the whole thing Friday night.

“Just keep going!” Taylor said afterward in a message to those down on their luck. “Never stop going!”

Jared Cannonier beat Nick Roehrick from pillar to post for the better part of nearly all three rounds. Finally, after a series of elbows — one standing, a few more on the ground — referee John McCarthy stepped in. Cannonier secured a very violent, TKO finish at 2:08 of the third round.

Cannonier (10-2) bounced back from his loss to Glover Teixeira at UFC 208 in February. The Texas native has now won three of his last four and seems to be someone to be reckoned with in the 205-pound division. Afterward, the 32-year-old Cannonier called out kickboxing champion and new UFC signee Gokhan Saki. Roehrick (7-1), who was coming in on short notice, was previously undefeated.

In the main card opener, Jordan Johnson beat Marcel Fortuna by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28). Also on the main card, Brad Tavares defeated Elias Theodorou by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) and Drakkar Klose beat Marc Diakiese by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28).

The heat between Klose and Diakiese continued after the fight when the two men had to be separated. In his post-fight interview, Klose said of Diakiese: “No disrespect to Michael Bisping, but all English dudes are bums.”

Tecia Torres picked up the first finish of her career, submitting Juliana Lima by rear-naked choke at :53 of the second round in the FS1 prelim opener. Afterward, she asked for a fight with Michelle Waterson that she hoped would set up a title fight.

“I think that ‘Karate Hottie’ can get me the title shot,” Torres said afterward. “I understand that she’s coming off a loss against Rose [Namajunas] in her last fight. That’s who I’ve been waiting for, karate versus karate, and I think that’s a big enough fight to propel me into the number one contender spot.”

Also on the FS1 prelims, CB Dollaway picked up a unanimous decision (29-28, 29-27, 29-27) victory over Ed Herman, James Krause beat Tom Galliccho by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) and Angela Hill defeated Ashley Yoder by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).

In the opener on UFC Fight Pass, Gray Maynard dominated Teruto Ishihara by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-26).

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