It was a staggering performance from Gaethje, who fell to Poirier five years ago in their previous meeting, but he vowed to show a much different version of himself on Saturday. Gaethje lived up to his promise as he showed much better patience and resisted the urge to get drawn into a fire fight with Poirier on the feet.
A back-and-forth opening round led to Gaethje baiting Poirier with his punches in the second frame, which allowed him to set up the head kick. As soon as his shin connected, Poirier crashed to the canvas where Gaethje came firing with one more blow as referee Herb Dean rushed in to stop the contest before any further damage was inflicted.
The official stoppage came at 1:00 in the second round as Gaethje celebrated his victory with Jorge Masvidal placing the ‘BMF’ title on his shoulder afterwards.
“Unlike any other sport on Earth, you rarely get a chance at redemption,” Gaethje said following his win. “We take a loss, we just have to go home and sit with it and it eats us away and we usually never get that chance. So to come back, to prove myself and I believed in myself the whole time I told Dustin he’s my favorite fighter on Earth. Luck and chance are a factor in this cage and I just thank god I came out on the right side this time.
“If you watch that [first] fight compared to this fight, it’s night and day. It was a tough lesson to learn but that man taught me that lesson and I think god for him.”
With Poirier stepping forward and looking to control the boxing range as the action got underway, Gaethje was showing much better patience compared to the first fight as he set up his leg kicks and then fired back with a series of stinging punches. Just when it looked like Gaethje was really starting to find his range, Poirier cracked him with a nasty straight punch that opened a cut over his left eye.
Gaethje recovered quickly and he started delivering more of those same leg kicks while Poirier was headhunting with a series of lightning quick yet devastating combinations with his hands.
It was a razor close five minute session but Gaethje clearly gained confidence from those exchanges where he was mixing up his strikes while resisting any urge to just bite down on his mouthpiece and throw caution to the wind like he did so often early in his UFC career.
On the restart, Gaethje got a little more aggressive going after Poirier but he recognized right away that the Louisiana native was looking to set up his counters, which gave him the idea to then look for the head kick. Gaethje launched a similar strike in the opening round but he didn’t set it up as well, which allowed Poirier to block it.
This time, Gaethje feinted with a punch and Poirier bit on the move to throw a combination in return.
That’s when Gaethje uncorked the hellacious head kick that blasted Poirier and put him down on the canvas, which served as his first knockout loss since 2016 when he fell to Michael Johnson. As for Gaethje, he racked up his eighth win overall in the UFC with a 3-1 resume in his past four fights.
“You know what I want to do next,” Gaethje shouted. “I want to fight for the world championship. These guys are fighting in October. I’m going to prove I’m the best in the world.”