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Before championship gold and all the performance bonuses in the UFC, Justin Gaethje was cutting through opponents like a buzzsaw in World Series of Fighting (now the PFL).
With a record of 14-0 and two title defences to his name, Gaethje welcomed the challenge of Bellator veteran Luis Palomino. The Peruvian was a fairly new addition to the WSOF roster but had two consecutive wins by knockout that granted him a shot at the Lightweight belt.
Gaethje opened up the fight in true Gaethje fashion: pressure-heavy and loading up on calf kicks. From those opening seconds onwards, the pace of the fight never relented; it operated at breakneck speed until someone cracked.
Palomino rocked Gaethje a couple of times in the first couple of minutes of the fight. Gaethje's response was to continue stalking forward and throw a barrage of hooks while dazed. In the midst of that chaos, Gaethje landed a couple of uppercuts that would have put 99.9% of the human population to sleep. Palomino? Nah. He would somehow survive and land some big shots on Gaethje in return.
At one point, Gaethje put Palomino in a standing rear-naked choke just to slam him to the ground. Who does that?! When they returned to their feet, a massive head kick dropped Palomino. His response? Immediate recovery - right back to his feet and trading leather with Gaethje.
The opening round ended with the champion attempting a rolling thunder which would become one of his signature moves.
The second round saw a lot more success for Palomino as he continuously found a home for his right hand and tore through Gaethje's porous defence. At one point, the champion was surviving purely on instinct - and low kicks. It would be those very same low kicks that would decide the outcome of the fight in the 3rd round.
After a gruelling and exhaustive back-and-forth, Gaethje started to initiate a more clinch-heavy approach in the 3rd. For most, that would have been a stalling tactic to regain some stamina. For Gaethje, it was with the sole intent of damaging Palomino even further. Knees and short uppercuts to the head of Palomino began to wilt the Peruvian down.
When they disengaged from the clinch, Gaethje's low kicks dropped Palomino twice. In the final few seconds, Gaethje landed a flying knee and another low kick that would put Palomino out of the fight for good. But just in case, Gaethje would follow up with some hammerfists and elbows from mount position until the referee mercifully halted the beating.
These two would inexplicably go on to fight again just six months later (!) in a fight that would end up being far less competitive than their first encounter.
Inhalers at the ready, you can watch the fight via the below link: