VANCOUVER — Winning so quickly, and decisively, was a surprise for Justin (The Highlight) Gaethje Saturday night.
Gaethje used a thundering right hand to knock Donald (The Cowboy) Cerrone to his knees, then landed a flurry of punches to force the referee to stop their match at 4:18 of the first round at UFC Fight Night.
“I’m always surprised,” said Gaethje, ranked No. 5 in the world. “I go in there and I’m not sure I’m good enough.
“It’s in the back of my head, are you good enough, do you belong here? You can pump yourself up with false confidence but that gets you no where.”
Canadian Tristan (Boondock) Connelly also sent a strong message to any doubters.
The Vancouver-based fighter, who was a late addition to the card, lived a Cinderella moment by defeating Brazil’s Michel (Demolidor) Pereira in a unanimous welterweight decision.
“I feel like things are going to be a little bit different starting tomorrow,” said Connelly, who earned US$100,000 in bonuses for the victory.
Connelly, who is originally from Victoria, didn’t learn until Monday night he would be fighting Pereira after the original opponent Sergey Khandozhko dropped out due to visa issues.
Pereira is a flashy fighter but Connelly refused to be intimidated by his backflips and fancy moves.
“I’m a fighter,” said Connelly, who was making his UFC debut. “If doing backflips was what I believe was important in fighting, I would be great at backflips. I can’t do one to save my life.
“I practise punching people, chocking people and kicking people. That’s what seems to work in most of the fights I watch.”
Connelly was fuelled by the energy from the crowd of 15,114 at Rogers Arena who were vocal in their support.
“Unreal,” said Connelly, who improved his record to 14-6-0. “Walking out, seeing all the people, I saw faces I knew. It was really something special.”
In the buildup to the event, the Gaethje-Cerrone match was billed as a possible candidate for fight of the year. It took Gaethje less than a round to end Cerrone’s night.
“I have really grown to trust my instincts,” said the Arvada, Colo., resident who improved his record to 21-2-0 with his 18th knockout.
“I’ve learned I have a couple of sledgehammers attached to these arms.”
Cerrone, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was hoping to use the fight to re-assert himself as a title threat. He holds the UFC record for wins (23) and finishes 16.
“Justin is a stud,” said Cerrone, who spoke to reporters wearing a cowboy hat and holding his infant son. “I figured he was little more aggressive. He’s going to do great things.”
Cerrone’s second straight loss leaves his record at 36-13-0 but he has no plans to retire.
In another bout with Canadian content light heavyweight Misha Cirkunov used a chock hold to force Australia’s Jimmy Crute to tap out just 3:38 into the first round of their match. The No. 15-ranked Cirkunov is from Riga, Latvia, but now fights out of Toronto
“I dedicated my entire summer for this moment, I worked like a dog,” said Cirkunov who improved to 15-5-0.
It was Crute’s first loss in 11 fights.
Other Canadian fighters struggled.
Cole (The Cole Train) Smith of Squamish, B.C., suffered his first loss in eight fights with a split decision against Miles (Chapo) Johns of Dallas in a battle of undefeated bantamweights. Johns improved to 9-0-0.
Austin (Thud) Hubbard of Denver, Colo., won the night’s opening lightweight bout in a unanimous decision over Kyle (Killshot) Prepolec of Windsor, Ont. Hubbard improved to 11-3-0. Prepolec’s record is 12-7-0
In another unanimous decision, Winnipeg’s Brad (Superman) Katona lost to Hunter Azure of Phoenix in a bantamweight match. Katona, The Ultimate Fighter season 27 winner who finished the fight with a bloody face, is 9-2-0. Azure remains undefeated at 7-0-1.
In the fight before the main event Glover Teixeira of Brazil won his fourth straight with a split decision in a light heavyweight match against Nikita (The Miner) Krylov of Ukraine. The No. 9-ranked Teixeira improved his record to 30-7-0. Krylov, who had never gone the distance in a fight before, is 26-7-0.
In other fights, Louis (Da Last Samurai) Smolka of Kapolei, Hawaii, improved to 16-6 with a TKO victory against Ryan (Main Event) MacDonald (10-2-0) of North Platte, Neb., in a bantamweight bout. Smolka won the fight with a vicious left hook that dropped MacDonald at 4:43 of the first round.
Chas (The Scrapper) Skelly of Arlington, Tex., improved his record to 18-3-0 with a unanimous decision over Jordan (Native Psycho) Griffin of Milwaukee in a featherweight fight. Griffin dropped to 17-7-0.
It took Brazil’s Augusto Sakai just 59 seconds to drop Marcin Tybura of Poland in a flurries of punches to win their heavyweight battle with a knockout. Sakai, ranked No. 15, saw his record improve to 14-1-0. Tybura, ranked No. 14, is 17-6-0.
Uriah (Prime Time) Hall of Kingston, Jamaica, earned a split decision over Anton (Cara De Sapato) Carlos Junior of Rio de Janeiro, in a middleweight fight. Hall, ranked No. 12, has a 16-9-0 record while No. 13 Carlos Junior is 11-4.
A heavyweight bout between Todd Duffee and Jeff (Lights Out) Hughes was ruled a no contest. A doctor stopped the fight early in the first round after Duffee was poked in the eye.
Jim Morris, The Canadian Press