Justin Gaethje may as well have hollered “are you not entertained?” at the crowd following his victory over Michael Chandler at UFC 268.
As “The Highlight” exclaimed following that three-round war, the duo were born in the wrong era. Realistically, they’re the closest you’ll find to modern day gladiators.
At the historic Madison Square Garden on Saturday, they damn well proved it.
While Gaethje established himself as a must-watch fighter well prior to his UFC run, he has long since cemented himself as the most electrifying man in mixed martial arts. After a year on the sidelines following his loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov, however, it seemed some fans needed a reminder. Some analysts, too; Daniel Cormier questioned Gaethje standing in front of Chandler early in what was a three-round war, seemingly forgetting the iron chin the former interim lightweight champ has always boasted.
Gaethje did not rely on chin or heart alone on Saturday. Instead, he fought a smart game plan, falling back on his famed leg kicks to hamper the mobility of a game Michael Chandler. For his part, Chandler had Gaethje hurt early, and more than once. But as the fight wore on, Gaethje weathered the storm, and came out on the other side still looking sharp. Chandler… well, Chandler looked like he was on the wrong end of a beating. Bloodied, leg compromised, but still willing to wave Gaethje onward.
Fight of the Night was a given. Fight of the Year is a strong possibility.
UFC 268 saw Dana White and co. open up the pocket book, as an additional four Performance of the Night bonuses were handed out following the event. Among them, Chris Barnett cashed in for his star turn against Gian Villante. A fighter who can best be described as rotund, the jovial big man landed a spinning wheel kick on the retiring Villante, sending him to his post-fight career a little sooner than planned.
After dancing his way to the octagon, Barnett celebrated with a front flip, putting fighters half his size, with much better physiques, to shame.
Chito Vera earned himself an extra $50,000 for his front kick KO of Frankie Edgar, while Bobby Green cashed in for his knockout of Al Iaquinta. Finally, the debuting Alex Pereira, who landed a flying knee on Andreas Michailidis to put him away, also won a Performance bonus.
All six bonus-winning fighters will receive an extra $50,000 U.S. for their efforts.