2017 Fight of the Year: Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Johnson

January 5, 2018

2017 was filled with knockout finishes, back-and-forth battles, and major upsets, but one fight stood out among the hundreds. On July 7 at The Ultimate Fighter 25 Finale, lightweights Justin Gaethje and Michael Johnson went to war in what would become an instant classic.

Gaethje, the former World Series of Fighting lightweight champion, was making his UFC debut. Leading up to the fight, the two engaged in a heated war of words that quickly morphed into a grudge match. 

Johnson was ranked No. 5 in the 155-pound division at the time.  Gaethje was looking to make a statement in his promotional debut and keep the shine on his spotless record. The win went to Gaethje, but the result was Fight of the Year.

There was no touch of gloves before the fight, and the two were unloading strikes with the intention of ending the bout early.  Gaethje pressured Johnson and delivered the first significant strikes of the fight with a combination early in the opening round.  Late in the frame Johnson landed an uppercut that had Gaethje on wobbly legs.  Johnson relentlessly worked for the finish, but the round expired before he could seal the deal.  

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In the second round, Johnson stunned Gaethje a second time. Gaethje bit down on his mouthpiece and returned fire. He hurt Johnson with a right hand and seized the moment. He followed up with an uppercut followed by another. Both fighters were struggling with exhaustion from the furious pace of the fight. Gaethje leaped in with a flying knee and finished with a series of punches and knees that left Johnson on the canvas. 

2017 Fight of the Year: Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Johnson

(Video courtesy of CBS Sports | Viewing may be limited by broadcast rights restrictions)

Honorable Mention: Eddie Alvarez vs. Justin Gaethje

Not only was Gaethje one half of the 2017 Fight of the Year, he was also half of an honorable mention for the honor. Gaethje and former UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez threw down at UFC 218 in early December with their back-and-forth bloody battle nearly taking top honors.

(Video courtesy of CBS Sports | Viewing may be limited by broadcast rights restrictions)

Honorable Mention: Cody Garbrandt vs. TJ Dillashaw

TJ Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt were also in the running for their epic battle at UFC 217 in November. Then UFC bantamweight champion Garbrandt dropped Dillashaw in the opening round, but Dillashaw stormed back in the second round to take out Garbrandt and recapture the title.

(Video courtesy of CBS Sports | Viewing may be limited by broadcast rights restrictions)