3. Eddie Alvarez vs. Justin Gaethje at UFC 218
If we are being honest, this whole list easily could have been all of Justin Gaethje’s fights in the UFC. The man has 11 performance bonuses in 11 UFC fights, it would have been a travesty to have a top five greatest lightweight fights and not include one of the many wars that Gaethje has treated us to.
Everyone has their pick for their favorite Gaethje fight and mine finds itself all the way at number three on this list. Coming into this bout, it seemed that Eddie Alvarez was nearing the end of his legendary career. He had been completely outclassed by Connor McGregor, dropping his lightweight title in the process. He then proceeded to illegally knee Dustin Poirier in the head while he was downed, and luckily for him that remained a No-Contest rather than a loss.
Gaethje on the other hand, was marching his way towards a title shot. Having an intense back-and-forth fight against Michael Johnson in his UFC debut, Gaethje was 18-0 and few people thought that Alvarez, who was starting to show that his chin was letting him down, would be a match for the aggressive force that is Justin Gaethje.
It definitely seemed that way as the fight started. Gaetje was landing hard leg kicks, forcing Alvarez to switch stance constantly. Such was the thud of the kicks that Alvarez’s legs began to wobble through the first. Alvarez did respond with a few tasty boxing combinations and it was clear that both men were going to put absolutely everything into every punch.
The second showed more of the same frantic pace and hard shots. Gaethje continued using his leg kicks to chop at Alvarez, landing a number of nasty uppercuts in the clinch. Alvarez meanwhile began to work on his game plan to exhaust Gaethje by ripping hard body shots whenever they came together. With both men having new scars to show, the fight seemed Gaethje’s to lose.
At this point, they were both on auto-pilot, throwing hard shot after hard shot. Gaethje continued to chop at Alvarez’s legs non-stop, making his opponent wobble with each one. With less than half the round to go and Gaethje seemingly one big leg kick away from stopping the fight, Alvarez initiated the clinch and landed a massive knee to his opponent’s head.
Gaethje hit the floor and just like that, Alvarez was back in the winning column. Another loss to a top contender probably would have seen Alvarez be discarded as a top-draw attraction but his tenacity and willingness to keep going despite the punishment he received was extraordinary. It fails to make it into the top two because there was simply not enough at stake but a list of greatest lightweight fights without Gaethje or Alvarez was intolerable. They thankfully put on this fight-of-the-year contender to make it onto the list.