It has finally happened. One of the most exciting fighters in the sport has signed with the UFC. Justin Gaethje will finally enter the “big leagues” ranked as the #10 lightweight in the world on the MMA Sucka staff rankings.
— FOX Sports: UFC (@UFCONFOX) May 4, 2017
Justin Gaethje (17-0) had been a mainstay of the WSOF organization since WSOF 2 in 2013. After three wins over solid names like Brian Cobb and Gesias Cavalcante, Gaethje was put in an inaugural lightweight title bout vs. Rich Patishnock at WSOF 8. The sixty-nine-second brawl ended with Gaethje getting the KO.
Since winning the belt in January of 2014, Gaethje has defended the title five times with five knockouts. He has had six fights total since the title win, though. At WSOF 15 he was set to defend his title against UFC, TUF veteran Melvin Guillard before the challenger missed weight. The fight continued, but no longer as a five-round title bout. It would instead be a typical three-round non-title fight. Gaethje won the fight on the judges’ scorecards. That was only the second time in seventeen fights that Gaethje had gone the distance.
Along with being a finishing machine in WSOF, he was also the most exciting fighter on the roster. Consistently giving us brawls with names like Luis Palomino, Luiz Firmino, and Brian Foster.
@ufc Lets C one of the "big league boys" put me to sleep. I want the scariest lightweight possible first. This 0 has to go! Contract signed
— Justin Gaethje 🇺🇸 (@Justin_Gaethje) May 4, 2017
Gaethje has made it clear he wants no “gimme” in his UFC debut. He is targeting the very best. Before we get into the five potential opponents, let’s take a look at the Top 15 contenders in the lightweight division.
- #1 – Khabib Nurmagomedov (Available)
- #2 – Tony Ferguson (Available)
- #3 – Eddie Alvarez (Booked for UFC 211 vs. Poirier)
- #4 – Rafael dos Anjos (Booked for UFC Singapore at welterweight)
- #5 – Edson Barboza (Available)
- #6 – Michael Johnson (Available)
- #7 – Michael Chiesa (Booked for UFC OKC vs. Lee)
- #8 – Nate Diaz (Available)
- #9 – Dustin Poirier (Booked for UFC 211 vs. Alvarez)
- #10 – Beneil Dariush (Available)
- #11 – Al Iaquinta (Available)
- #12 – Kevin Lee (Booked for UFC OKC vs. Chiesa)
- #13 – Evan Dunham (Available)
- #14 – Gilbert Melendez (Available)
- #15 – Rashid Magomedov (Available)
There are the Top 15 lightweights in the world – according to the UFC. Didn’t bother to include the divisions lightweight champion, because Conor McGregor has zero interest in defending the title anytime soon, sadly. This makes the division and its extensive list of contenders quite foggy.
I have handpicked five opponents that would match-up well with Gaethje in his debut. Three of the names are featured in the rankings above, the other two are not.
Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov (24-0)
Yes. On paper, this seems like a very steep up-step for “The Highlight”. However; is it really, though? Numagomedov, according to the UFC, is the #1 contender for the UFC lightweight championship. And has been for a while.
But when it comes down to it, in my opinion, as well as many other people’s opinions, Tony Ferguson is the rightful owner of that “#1 contender” title. Based on activity alone.
The fact of the matter is; Khabib Numagomedov has two wins in the past three years. One of which was a debuting, late-notice opponent in the form of Darrell Horcher. The other was over the current #6 ranked Michael Johnson.
Justin Gaethje might be taking a big step-up if he were to face Nurmagomedov, but, statistically, it’d be a very intriguing one. Khabib Nurmagomedov is known for his smothering, brutal, and dominant grappling attack. With a heavy top game, he takes people down and keeps them there. That might seem like he’d have no struggle with the in-your-face style of Gaethje, but let’s not forget, Gaethje has a legitimate wrestling background. He just uses it in reverse. And with the ability to potentially defend the takedowns, he has enough power in his hands to take out anyone.
Would Gaethje win? Who knows. But if he was able to put on a solid performance against a name like Khabib Nurmagomedov in his debut fight, he’d almost certainly be a mainstay in the lightweight Top 5 for a long, long time. I know it’s a long-shot, but it’s a very welcome one.