With 10 performance bonuses, including six “Fight of the Night” awards, and a pair of “Fight of the Year” trophies, Justin Gaethje has undeniably defined himself as one of the most exciting fighters to ever compete in MMA.
But Gaethje believes that statement doesn’t go far enough. There may be a long list of the most thrilling fighters in MMA history, but there’s only one person sitting on the throne.
“I’m the most exciting fighter that has ever stepped in that octagon in the history of this sport,” Gaethje proclaimed during UFC 286 media day. “Of course, I pride myself on that.”
It’s hard to argue against Gaethje’s statment, considering the anticipation that typically builds around his fights, no matter where he’s competing on a card. He’s engaged in highlight-reel main events, and his last “Fight of the Year” award came in a battle against Michael Chandler in a pay-per-view main opener.
“I don’t just believe it, you believe it,” Gaethje said. “You all believe it. You know it to be true. It’s not on purpose, it’s just who I am. That’s how I compete. I’m cut from this cloth.”
Despite his history as an All-American wrestler at University of Northern Colorado, Gaethje rarely turns to his grappling, almost always preferring to stand and trade with his opponents.
Gaethje can’t really explain why he’s always leaned into putting on wars, but the origins actually go back to his wrestling roots when he experienced the same phenomenon.
“It’s not on purpose,” he explained. “It’s just who I am. It’s who I’ve been in wrestling. Wrestling can be boring. My wrestling matches were never boring. It’s just the way it is. I don’t know why. I can’t turn it off.”
Gaethje says he doesn’t really remember jaw-dropping, memorable fights in his fights, because he’s far too busy trading blows with opponents.
“It’s moving so fast, I definitely cannot remember a thought,” he said. “Your ability to retain information in there is non-existent. It’s moving so fast, and if you take time to retain information, your peripherals, your intuition just goes out the window for one or two seconds, and we’re fighting less than one or two seconds, less than inches, so there’s no time for any of that.”
As far as his upcoming fight against Rafael Fiziev at UFC 286, Gaethje expects more of the same when it comes to his fan-friendly style in the cage, which is why he doesn’t really need to address his strategy.
He acknowledges that Fiziev presents some interesting challenges, especially when it comes to his striking. But he isn’t counting on this fight turning into a war.
“Just because he’s a Muay Thai fighter doesn’t mean he might not try to take me down,” Gaethje said. “If I get to the ground, I’ve been working on getting up and working on a few submission from the top, so you can’t ever look past somebody’s ability to take it to the ground, because we all in this sport have that ability.”
If the fight does stay on the feet for 15 minutes — or however long they can survive — Gaethje believes in himself enough to know he can stand with anyone, including Fiziev.
There’s no denying Fiziev’s status as an elite striker, but Gaethje promises he’s still got a few tricks up his sleeve, and there’s a good chance he’ll be leaving with another bonus after UFC 286 is over.
“He’s got some crazy skills, especially to the untrained eye,” Gaethje said of Fiziev. “This guy is the best of the best. I think I can take advantage of certain situations. I think I can create more damage in certain situations. I think I can control distance better and I’m going to have to be perfect on Saturday in order for that to be the case.”