PHOENIX -- Justin Gaethje isn't oblivious to the realities he sees around him. The World Series of Fighting lightweight champion is one of the most exciting, go-for-broke fighters in the division, and in a culture where proven winners like Jon Fitch and Jake Shields get cut from the UFC with just a single loss marring years of dominance, Gaethje says there's a reason he retains his breakneck style.
"I know for a fact entertainment is more important than winning," Gaethje told MMAFighting.com. "Those guys (who win boring decisions), they aren't making money. I know some guys in Colorado who are undefeated, they have 14 or 15 fights, but they're making $2,000 to fight because they're not exciting. No one wants to see them fight. You only have to go on a couple message boards to know what the fans want, and the fans want you to put it on the line and to entertain them. That's the easy part. It's easy to go out there and go balls to the wall.
"When you're in there just trying to win, you're thinking the whole time, ‘what do I gotta do to win?' Screw that. I want to know what I gotta do to make you remember me, to build my stock. The UFC is out there and they pay a lot of money. I have to build my stock in order to get paid what I want to get paid."
So far Gaethje has tasted the best of both worlds. The owner of a flawless professional record, the 26-year-old Gaethje has raged over the WSOF lightweight division since his debut in 2013, riding a streak of ferocious knockouts all the way to the organization's title. Life remains tough for a world-class fighter trying to earn respect outside of the UFC, but with each passing win, Gaethje's stock continues to climb, and he attributes his success largely to the one thing that most fighters fear most -- an absolute disregard for that ‘0' in his 13-0 record.
"[Fighters] are lying out of their ass if they're saying that they're never going to lose," Gaethje said. "You could be the best in the world, but it doesn't matter. It's four-ounce gloves. I've been dropped in practice with a knee to the body. I take a good knee to the body and break my ribs in the fight, I lost. I mean, it's a fight. ... I could lose and it could be the best fight ever, it still does great things for me.
"That's the key to this game. I'm my own employer right now and I have to put myself on the line, put my life on the line to be where I want to be and make the money I want to make."
Gaethje will look to defend his belt against fellow free-swinger Luis Palomino this Saturday in the main event of WSOF 19. It's a hometown fight for the Arizona native -- his first since his Rage in the Cage days -- but it's also the culmination of something Gaethje has been waiting for ever since the day he took that belt -- namely, his desire to meet a like-minded foe.
"I've been waiting for this kind of fight," Gaethje said. "The last, I'd say, four guys I've fought, they didn't want to fight me. And I don't see that being the case with Palomino. It's bound to be good for TV and all I need right now is a knock-out, drag-out war to go viral. It's perfect.
"Fans love that. I haven't been able to show my skills really, because like I said, everyone's always running from me so I have to chase them. I can't even set my feet. I have to be running forward when I punch them. Now it's going to be a real fight and I'm ready for it."
Another few scalps on his mantle and Gaethje could start forcing his way into people's mouths when they talk about the top lightweights in the world. It's a discussion Gaethje already feels he deserves to be in, but he understands these things take time. For now, he's content to settle for being the best fighter around to not own his own Wikipedia page.
"It doesn't make sense," Gaethje said, laughing. "But I mean, I couldn't even use Wikipedia as a source in college, so it can't be that important."