Although it’s hard to tell from his fighting style, in his younger years Justin Gaethje was a two-time Arizona state wresting champion and a NCAA Division I All-American.
His aggression in striking exchanges has won him more fans than ever since signing on the dotted line with the UFC. Gaethje walked into his Octagon debut as an unbeaten lightweight, but now finds himself on a two-fight losing streak after suffering consecutive stoppage losses to Dustin Poirier and Eddie Alvarez.
Speaking on the latest episode of The MMA Hour, Gaethje conceded that he should have used his wrestling pedigree against “The Diamond.”
“I’ve been wrestling my whole life. I should’ve and could’ve took him down a couple of times, especially when I had him rocked just to steal a round or two. For some reason, my mind will not let me do it,” Gaethje told Ariel Helwani.
Up until this point, Gaethje has avoided wrestling in MMA because he figured that he would rather get tired by fighting his opponent than wrestling them.
“I think I sold myself so hard on the fact that this is not wrestling. I don’t know, I honestly don’t know the answer to that question,” he replied when asked why wrestling didn’t prominently feature in his fighting arsenal.
“It gets you tired. If I’m going to get tired, I’d rather it be from fighting and not from wrestling. That’s the reason why I never wanted to wrestle. But I did so much cardio this camp that it would not have been a problem for me to turn it into a wrestling match, but I just can’t do it, it would not be fun for me.”
Gaethje now thinks it’s a good idea for him to threaten with takedowns to keep his opponents guessing.
“It definitely would be a good idea. I have to get people guessing if I’m going to take them down or not. They know what I’m coming with right now. Everyone knows I’m going to come in there and I’m going to stop your takedowns. So, yeah, it would benefit me to keep them guessing. I need to work it into my game plan.
“No, I don’t wish that I fought like that,” Gaethje added. “I’m glad that I fight like I do because I love what I do, but it would be fun to add that into the game plan sometime.”
Despite Gaethje underlining that he should have taken Poirier down earlier in the interview, he went on to say that using his wrestling would’ve been contrary to the game plan that was in place — breaking Poirier’s legs with kicks.
“I took a hard shot, it knocked me out. I definitely have to keep people guessing whether I’m going to take them down. My main game plan on Saturday night was to go in their and break his legs, and right off the bat I had a lot of success in doing that.
“I know why I didn’t take him down, it would have defeated the entire purpose of my game plan. If I took him down I wouldn’t be able to kick his leg, that’s what my mindset was.”