After a back and forth war with Michael Johnson in his UFC debut, former World Series of Fighting champion Justin Gaethje went to do what he always does: his signature backflip off the cage. Only this time, due to a mixture of sweat and exhaustion he could not climb the cage. Any other fighter would give up, and celebrate the win in the much more normal way. As is known about Gaethje, however, he persisted. His second attempt was much more of a failure, and an octagon official came by to advise him of cutting it out. Gaethje laughingly pushed the official away, scaled the cage, and finally, on his third attempt, did his signature flip. Gaethje had inducted himself into the top of the biggest division in the sport, the lightweight division. Conor McGregor & Khabib Nurmagomedov have always been a few wins away, but If his interim title fight against Tony Ferguson goes as planned, Gaethje can potentially rise to the top.
A Tale of Two Fighters
The most interesting aspect of Gaethje as a fighter is his perception. Largely, there are two crowds: those who think he is just a mindless brawler, and those who think he is a much more skilled technician than perceived. Like most things, trust lies somewhere in the middle. Gaethje is reckless, and his irresponsibility has led him to his two losses against Dustin Poirier & Eddie Alvarez. While Justin went toe to toe with both men, he suffered late stoppages. Since those fights, Gaethje has gone on a tear of first-round knockouts that have notably shown him adapt to become a more disciplined and responsible fighter. The old Gaethje is still largely there. For a coach to strip Gaethje of his wild fighting nature would be a disaster; his chaotic style is what makes him not only compelling but also an elite fighter, controlled chaos if you will. Gaethje’s abilities are constantly doubted, which only makes him a much more dangerous fight for anyone. Particularly for Tony Ferguson who is defensively liable and known to get dropped by nearly everyone.
Finding His Equal
After Gaethje finally succeeded in landing his backflip after knocking out Johnson he had his first Octagon Interview. Before Brian Stann could even ask his own question Gaethje grabbed the mic and had one question: Who’s next? He sounded like a drill sergeant as he repeated the question. “Where’s my equal at?” Gaethje didn’t say this as if to imply there was no one on his level, he seemed to genuinely want to find someone who could hurt him. Just moments before being finished by Poirier two fights later, Gaethje was motioning Poirier to come forward and hit him. Gaethje has such a unique mindset and unlike most fighters, he does not seem to fear to lose. Listen to any interview and Gaethje comes across as the most self-aware and honest fighter there is. He’s aware of his shortcomings, and that awareness makes for a scary opponent. Whether it’s to be Tony Ferguson on May 9th for the interim belt or someone else in the future, Justin Gaethje will remain a devastating force in the lightweight division.
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