When Justin Gaethje talks about his unique approach to the fight game, he admits that a) it’s too late for him to change now, and b) it may not work for everyone on the UFC roster.
“I can never put myself in any other mindset,” he said. “I can’t believe that any other fighter can’t grasp what I’ve been able to grasp. And I’m not saying that I’m right – I’m saying that it’s right and it works for me. It probably wouldn’t work for everybody.”
So what is that approach? Just take a look at the Twitter message he posted after signing with the UFC.
Bold talk, but Gaethje meant every word of it. That’s why he’s fighting in a main event in his first UFC bout against Michael Johnson on July 7, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I want people to want to see me get embarrassed, and I don’t want to do that through talking s**t,” he said. “I want to do that through self-belief. I believe I’m the best and I believe in this sport it comes down to fractions of inches and milliseconds and a little bit of luck because it takes just one punch. I just really like to keep moving forward and I want to be the money fight. There are people asking for it, and you either are the money fight or you’re not. It’s simple. And you have to be willing to get embarrassed to try to be the money fight.”
Those that haven’t followed Gaethje’s career are probably excited right about now; those who have were already excited at the prospect of seeing “The Highlight” in the Octagon, and rightfully so.
Unbeaten in 17 pro fights, the 28-year-old Arizona native is a former Division I All-American wrestler for the University of Northern Colorado, but he’s not trying to grapple his opponents if he doesn’t have to. He’s seeking a knockout at all times and at all costs, and 14 times he hit his mark. It’s earned him accolades unique to the fight game as one of the most violent competitors in the sport, but when asked him about it, he has to explain the Dr. Jekyll part of his personality before he discusses Mr. Hyde.
"I don’t make him my enemy, but Michael Johnson is trying to take everything I’ve ever worked for in my entire life. So it’s real easy for me to fight my ass off and never quit.” --Justin Gaethje
“The way I was raised, I come from a small copper mining town, a hard working community, and you are going to say, ‘Yes ma’am, no ma’am,’ you’re going to hold the door, and I’ve just got great parents that taught me how to treat people,” Gaethje said. “I get a lot of satisfaction out of treating people correctly. But when it comes to being in the cage, I’m able to flip the switch and really put myself in the mindset that this guy is trying to kill me and take my life and everything I’ve ever worked for. I don’t make him my enemy, but Michael Johnson is trying to take everything I’ve ever worked for in my entire life. So it’s real easy for me to fight my ass off and never quit.”
That philosophy earned him the World Series of Fighting lightweight title in 2014, and he successfully defended that belt five times. Add in that he’s defeated UFC vets Drew Fickett, Dan Lauzon, Melvin Guillard, Brian Foster and Brian Cobb, as well as the likes of Luiz Firmino, JZ Cavalcante and Luis Palomino, and it’s clear that he’s ready for the big show and everything that comes along with it.
“I knew that the UFC was where the elite fought, and if I put myself in the position where I was an elite fighter, I would fight those guys eventually,” he said. “After a while, the only people that wanted to fight me (in WSOF) were the people that I had beaten, tough guys like Palomino and Foster, and those are lose-lose fights for me. I need fresh meat and I was starting to become a hazard to my health because I was not able to get up for the training camps or the fights. And now, every day I’m waking up with so much ambition to be a better fighter and the best that I can be.”
So he’s ready for the UFC. Are the lightweights of the promotion ready for him? Everyone is about to find out.
“I’ve put people in some places that they’ve never been,” Gaethje said. “Straight into deep water, and that’s where I live. Most fights do not end in the first round. Most fights come down to attrition and will and I know that. I really have taken a hold of the hard work aspect and making everybody that’s believed in me this whole time proud of me, and that’s going to be worth every single bit of hard work I’ve put into this.”