After a long hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, the UFC made its return with three events in eight days in Jacksonville, Florida. UFC 249, UFC on ESPN+ 29 and UFC on ESPN 8 each featured a host of eye-catching performances, but which fighter stood out as the star performer over the course of the eight days?

That’s the question we put to MMA Junkie’s Simon Head, Farah Hannoun and Dave Doyle as they sound off in the latest edition of Triple Take.


Simon Head: Justin Gaethje reaching the pinnacle

Fans loved watching Justin Gaethje long before he got his hands on UFC gold, but his performance to win the UFC interim lightweight title at UFC 249 showed that he had evolved his game to go that extra yard and push him to within touching distance of a fight with champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Gaethje’s fan-friendly fighting style had already won him a legion of supporters, but it also put him in harm’s way more often than perhaps was sensible, and his back-to-back losses to Dustin Poirier and Eddie Alvarez – both in the later rounds – showed that there was still some refinement needed if “The Highlight” was to go all the way to the top.

His performance against Tony Ferguson proved that those refinements had been made, as Gaethje produced the best performance of his career to win the interim belt and book himself a future date with “The Eagle.”

I’ve felt for awhile that Gaethje had the best combination of skills to test Nurmagomedov and potentially even hand the Russian his first defeat, but I wasn’t sure if his gung-ho approach would count against him against the other top contenders. Now he has taken his game to a different level, beaten Ferguson and showed that he’s championship-ready, those doubts are now out of the window.

Gaethje is ready, and his upcoming clash with Khabib could turn out to be one of the fights of 2020.

Next page – Farah Hannoun: Henry Cejudo goes out on a high