JUSTIN Gaethje claimed the UFC’s BMF title with a brutal head-kick KO of long-time rival Dustin Poirier.
The fan favourite renewed his rivalry with his fellow former interim lightweight champion on Saturday night in the main event of UFC 291 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
‘The Highlight’ lost the pair’s memorable first clash five years ago, suffering a brutal fourth-round TKO loss in front of his friends and family.
But he settled the score by dusting ‘The Diamond’ with a ‘Highlight’ reel head kick in the second – which was eerily reminiscent of Leon Edwards’ KO of Kamaru Usman in the same building 11 months ago.
A fired-up Gaethje said in his post-fight interview: “You know what I want to do next, I want to fight for the world championship.
“These guys [Islam Makhachev and Charles Oliveira] are fighting in October and I want to prove I’m in the best in the world.
“Win lose or draw, maximum effort is what you’re going to get out of me.”
Poirier started the contest looking to feint his way in after an expected glove touch.
Gaethje, unsurprisingly, went back to the leg kick well which left Poirier battered and bruised after their first showdown.
Each of Poirier’s body early kicks were returned with thudding and debilitating leg kicks from Gaethje.
Gaethje soon changed tact and opted to try his luck with a head kick, which was partially blocked.
But he soon found a home for two counter left hooks after telegraphed entries from Poirier.
Two nasty straight left hands, however, soon hurt Gaethje, who began blinking out the pain.
He was briefly sent into retreat mode but got his wits about him thanks to some good distance management.
And the round ended with Gaethje getting the better of a wild exchange with a big straight right.
Chants of “Poirier, Poirier, Poirier” rang throughout the arena as the Lousianan began to stalk his fellow former interim champ.
Poirier, 34, seemed wise to Gaethje’s somewhat telegraphed attacks.
But he didn’t see a nasty head kick come behind a straight right hand and felt the full force of Gaethje’s shin on his chin.
Poirier collapsed in a heap and ate a big hammer fist before referee slid in Herb Dean and waved off the contest.
The arena went into a state of pandemonium, as did Gaethje – who quickly climbed the cage and performed his spectacular backflip celebration.
On his incredible and viral kick, the Arizonan said: “I threw that against [Rafael] Fiziev one time.
“And I was like, ‘Oh, that was nice.’
“I knew after he threw his left hand that he was looking for counters.
“And I figured if I faked a counter [I could get him.
“I landed it twice in the first round, but for some reason it just wrapped around the head that time.
“Maybe call it luck, I’m down with it.”