It might be hard to tell considering Justin Gaethje has demolished his last two opponents in less than four minutes combined but he has actually made dramatic changes to his strategy after falling to Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier in back-to-back fights.
The former World Series of Fighting champion has always been known for his non-stop action style where he plows forward, seemingly with reckless abandon, with a kill or be killed mentality against every single opponent he’s faced.
The result has been Gaethje earning six post fight bonuses worth $300,000 in five bouts in the UFC but that style also cost him in the only two losses he suffered in the Octagon.
That’s why the former Division I All-American wrestler made some major adjustments to the way he approaches fights while working with his head coach Trevor Wittman. Gaethje says the proof is in his performances, although it’s been tough to notice considering the way he flatlined James Vick and Edson Barboza in his most recent fights.
“I think if you look at it on paper, it tells a story. I am fighting completely different,” Gaethje told MMA Fighting. “The number of punches I throw has decreased by like 70 percent, 80 percent. I’ve really found I hit hard as f—k so I know I just have to touch them but I used to go in there and try too hard.
“My coach would always tell me ‘if you just try a little bit less, you’ll knock people out, you’ll find those shots you’re trying to fight’ and after the [Dustin] Poirier fight, I was able to go back to the drawing board and make some adjustments and I really think that I am fighting way different.”
The changes didn’t result in less thrilling finishes but rather a more polished performance overall that has Gaethje at the top of his game as he prepares for his showdown against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone this weekend.
“I think you’re seeing me at my smartest. That’s my best absolutely,” Gaethje said.
While he’s never backed down from any fight that’s been offered to him, even Gaathje couldn’t help but get excited when he found out Cerrone would be his next opponent after a proposed matchup against Tony Ferguson fell apart.
According to Gaethje, he was offered the former interim champion at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi but the bout never came together and he wasted no time moving onto Cerrone instead.
“It’s definitely a fan favorite,” Gaethje said. “Performance bonuses alone, we’ve got all of them. I didn’t have a lot of options after that fight [with Edson Barboza]. I wanted Tony [Ferguson] but he’s kind of earned his title shot so I tried to get Al [Iaquinta]. They actually called me to fight Tony in Abu Dhabi and I said yes and then that fell through. Then they said what about “Cowboy” and I said let’s do it.”
As much as he would have enjoyed the fight with Ferguson as well, Gaethje actually credits the former interim champion for playing it smart rather than just accepting whatever fight was thrown his way.
“I doubt he turned it down. He probably just had some smart people around him making decisions. There’s no reason he should have fought that fight,” Gaethje said about Ferguson.
When it comes to Cerrone this weekend, Gaethje expects another signature war from the UFC and WEC veteran, who always comes to fight no matter who he’s facing.
That’s exactly the kind of opponent that have allowed Gaethje to transform into a human highlight reel and he expects nothing different on Saturday in Vancouver.
“Right when ticket sales went on, they sold a ton of tickets and there’s a reason. Every time I fight, someone is going to sleep. I’m 100 percent right now and when I’m done, I hope I’m still at 100 percent. Either they go to sleep or I go to sleep, that’s what I’m here for,” Gaethje said.
“He has a kid now so he’s fighting for a different reason. That’s huge in what we do. Self-confidence is huge and the reason why you’re fighting is absolutely critical. For him to have that is super dangerous for me but at the end of the day, a fight’s a fight. Right when that bell rings we’re playing with fractions of inches so I’m going to go in there and put pressure on him just like I need to and find his body. Start at his legs and work my way up to his head.”
Whether this fight ends in the first round or goes to the final bell, Gaethje plans on pouring on the punishment in every second of every minute while also showing off the strategic changes he’s made with his coaches to have his best performance possible
That said, Gaethje promises the end result will be just as thrilling as every other fight on his resume.
“My fights will always be the most exciting,” Gaethje said. “When I’m done, I will be remembered as the most exciting fighter to ever do this.”