UFC on ESPN 2 is in the books, as the ESPN-televised event went down last night (Sat., March 30, 2019) inside Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa., in an exciting night of fights. In the main event of the evening, Justin Gaethje and Edson Barboza went at it for a half-round, exchanging blows until “Highlight” clipped “Junior” with a looping right hand that put him to sleep long before he hit the canvas (see it again here). In the co-main event, Jack Hermansson pulled off a lightning-quick win over David Branch, submitting the former World Series of Fighting (WSOF) champ-champ in less than one minute (watch it).
Biggest Winner: Justin Gaethje
There were several combatants who could’ve earned the top spot because of one exciting finish after another, but this one has to go to “The Highlight.” Standing toe-to-toe with Barboza rarely ends well for most people, but Gaethje isn’t most people. Indeed, Gaethje only knows one way to fight — pedal to the metal, full speed ahead and throwing bombs. This time, however, Gaethje implemented a great plan of aggression, patience and precise haymakers all in a well-executed attack. With his first-round knockout over the Brazilian bomber, Gaethje should expect a huge bump in the rankings to help his case for a future title shot. In his last seven wins, Gaethje has scored all knockout wins, proving that he is without a doubt one of the hardest hitters in the 155-pound weight class. While he won’t get a title fight next, expect a huge showdown against one of the best the division has to offer his next time out.
Runner Up: Josh Emmett
It’s been a pretty tough stretch for Josh Emmett over the last 12 months. After getting knocked out by Jeremy Stephens in Feb. 2018, Emmett was forced to the sidelines after he underwent facial surgery to repair the damage he sustained at the hands of “Lil’ Heathen.” In his first fight back, Emmett faced the always-game Michael Johnson, who had control of the fight up until Emmett — who knew he had to pull something out of the hat to win — unleashed a powerful right hand that landed flush and slept “The Menace” long before his stiff body hit the canvas (see it again here).
It’s a huge win for “Grim Reaper,” who holds an impressive 5-2 mark inside the Octagon. With the win, Emmett puts the division on notice, reminding the whole weight class that he’s back and ready to put anyone’s lights out. Unfortunately for Emmett, he surprisingly didn't get the $50,000 post-fight bonus he requested in his post-fight interview.
Honorable Mention: Jack Hermansson
Let’s start putting a bit more respect on Jack Hermansson’s name, as “The Joker” picked up one of the biggest wins of his UFC career after submitting David Branch in just 49 seconds on the big stage (highlights). That is now three straight finishes for Hermansson, who moves to a rather impressive 6-2 inside the Octagon, with his last loss coming to Thiago Santos, who will next face Jon Jones for the Light Heavyweight title. Hermansson’s submission over Branch was immaculate, slithering his way to a great position to trap the former World Series of Fighting (WSOF) champion in an arm-in guillotine choke. I mean he made it look smooth and easy.
The Middleweight division is as stacked as other weight classes, but Hermansson could very well sneak his way into Top 15 consideration after this win. If he keeps racking up the finishes, we could very well be talking about “The Joker” eyeing the biggest dogs in the yard soon.
Biggest Loser: Ross Pearson
“Real Deal’s” knockout loss to Desmond Green gave him his second straight defeat, bringing his mark to just 1-6 in his last seven outings. That’s a tough stretch for anyone, much less for a fighter who has been fighting inside the eight-walled cage for as long as Pearson has.
In his 26 fights under UFC’s umbrella, Pearson has only managed to rack up a 12-14 mark during his decade-long run. The loss could very well put Pearson’s UFC future in danger, which is the reason he gets the not-so desired label of “biggest loser” for this event. Pearson is indeed “one of the good guys” who handles his business with professionalism, but at the end of the day, a fighter is truly judged by wins and losses in this sport, and Pearson’s horrid run has left much to be desired. Whether or not he gets another chance to turn it around, remains to be seen.