Believe it or not, there were fights this weekend. The WSOF managed to claim a rare Saturday night that the UFC hadn’t already bogarted. And even with Anthony Johnson wrecking Mike Kyle with a wicked counter right hook -- as well as a cringe-worthy follow-up as Kyle lay prone face down on the canvas -- it was WSOF’s homegrown star that stole the show.
Justin Gaethje is quickly becoming something to behold. It wasn’t just that he handled his lightweight title bout against Richard Patishnock like a man with a strict curfew, it was the grace under fire. It was the general alacrity to inflict pain, swiftly and without nonsense. It’s his continued, unnerving poise while freelancing on offense. As a matter of fact, it’s that he freelances so well on offense.
And even for all that, his Colorado-based coach Trevor Wittman says he’s nowhere near his actual potential. He calls the 25-year old Gaethje "green." Which might be the deep green of a copper patina, from the looks of it.
Like he did with Gesias Cavalcante and Dan Lauzon, Gaethje pressured Patishnock from the opening bell at WSOF 8 in Hollywood, Florida. Patishnock -- who was a late replacement for Lewis Gonzalez, though was realistically just a target -- gamely threw down in the opening moments. Gaethje willingly took a few to land start the landslide, though. And sixty-nine seconds later, after Patishnock was rocked by knees, pocket punches, spinning things and short temple-smashing elbows, referee Troy Waugh coolly peeled Gaethje away from the scene.
Patishnock, smiling a bloody smile, simply had no answer. Just like Cavalcante didn’t, and Lauzon didn’t. It’s great for any promotion when the top guy presents himself as unsolvable.
"All the years are paying off right now," Gaethje, who began wrestling at four years old, said afterwards. "We haven’t worked one elbow all camp, to tell you the truth. Coach [Trevor Wittman] is just always telling me to have fun out there and stay creative."
Creativity is what makes Gaethje the face of the World Series of Fighting…a promotion that after its eighth installment still looks like Mount Elbert compared to Mount Everest (the UFC).
But you know what? Good fighters cast their own shadow.
Gaethje, who is not a castoff nor a retread nor a resurrection story but a gem that the WSOF discovered all on its own, is the cornerstone to identity. If the WSOF is smart, they dump truckloads of the best 155ers they can find in the cage with Gaethje (11-0) and then high tail it out before they get caught in the maelstrom. They should do everything in their power to keep the Grudge fighter long-term and market their inaugural champion with gusto, because right now -- as far as the WSOF concerned -- he’s their Jon Jones. He is Jones circa UFC 100, when the quiet kid from Endicott was trying out the full bouquet of artisan striking.
Gaethje, like Jones, makes it look easy as he finishes people.
Too much hyperbole? Not if you're WSOF. There’s no such thing as too much hyperbole in the fight game. Mythmaking is what makes the thing go round. And Gaethje, with no associations to other organizations, is a hypeable commodity. He's ripe to be put some aura around. More so than Marlon Moraes (who has been dominant of late in the WSOF decagon) and Tyrone Spong (a dualist who moonlights with WSOF when not kickboxing in Glory) and Anthony Johnson (who is now a free agent, and could be on his way back to the UFC). Gaethje is synonymous with WSOF, and -- from a promotional standpoint -- he’s the guy to build around.
Of course, whether or not WSOF can truly groom a star remains to be seen. There is a potential big fight down the road between Gaethje and Nick Newell, the one-armed convention-buster who holds a similar star quality. Or they can match Gaethje up with "JZ" Cavalcante again, since the first fight was stopped due to a cut. Or they could start picking and choosing from the surplus of 155ers and let Gaethje do work.
Whatever the case, Saturday night was another showcase for Gaethje. It might have slipped under the radar for a lot of fight fans, but the WSOF inaugural lightweight champ looks like the real deal. Now it’s a question of whether or not the WSOF can make him into an event.