"The Highlight" keeps adding to his reel.
Gaethje landed a counter right hand that dropped Cerrone, then followed with three uppercuts and another right hand that put him down for good. Gaethje landed two more punches with Cerrone on all fours, and referee Jerin Valel stepped in to call it off.
Afterward, Gaethje said he wants to fight for the UFC lightweight title next against the winner of a potential fight between champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson. Gaethje said he's not interested in fighting Conor McGregor right now.
"The Irishman is retired," Gaethje said. "I want a real fighter. I want the winner of Tony and Khabib."
However, Gaethje said later that if McGregor wanted to fight, he would be interested.
"If [McGregor is] going to fight, I definitely want to fight him. He punched an old man in the face. I want to f--- him up for that," Gaethje said.
Up until the finish, Gaethje was winning the battle on the feet at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia. He outlanded Cerrone 40-17 in significant strikes, according to UFC Stats. Gaethje was landing hard combinations and leg kicks. Cerrone got through with a combination or two of his own, but Gaethje was leading. Cerrone overextended with a combination, and Gaethje landed the right hand that started the finishing sequence.
Gaethje actually got upset with Valel in the finishing sequence, because he thought the referee should have stepped in earlier. Cerrone, meanwhile, complained that it was called too soon -- he wanted to keep going.
"Every time I walk out here, I question everything on purpose," Gaethje said. "I think they're better than me, I think they're working harder than me. I have something to prove every time I come out here."
Added Cerrone on the ESPN+ postfight show: "It sucks to get your ass whupped that fast."
Gaethje (21-2) has won three in a row, all by first-round KO/TKO, after dropping two straight. The Arizona native has earned "The Highlight" nickname by going to decision only once in 23 career fights and winning 18 times by KO/TKO. He's tied for the most knockouts at lightweight since 2017 (4). Gaethje, 30, is the former World Series of Fighting lightweight champion and could be poised for a future UFC title shot. He's ranked No. 5 among MMA lightweights by ESPN.
Cerrone (36-12, 1 NC), who came in ranked No. 4 at lightweight by ESPN, has lost two straight by stoppage. "Cowboy" was coming off a loss to Ferguson at UFC 238 in June. Cerrone, 36, owns the UFC record for wins (23) and finishes (16) and is a surefire future Hall of Famer. He and Gaethje have trained together before and consider each other friends.
"This kid is a stud, man," Cerrone said. "It's very hard to fight a friend. What a cool dude. What a cool sport."