Who is Justin Gaethje and what has the MMA world done to deserve such an incredibly tough fighter?
If you’re still wondering who one of the top-ranked lightweight fighters is, you simply don’t appreciate the sport of mixed martial arts. In his first three UFC contests, Gaethje has shown zombie-like toughness and durability that has put him in a “Fight of the Year” candidate every time he has entered the Octagon.
Not many fighters would captivate an audience or the media the way Gaethje has — and all this even though he’s just 1-2 in his three UFC fights after coming into the promotion with an undefeated 17-0 record. His losses have come to top lightweight contenders in former champion Eddie Alvarez and, most recently, Dustin Poirier, and Gaethje still belongs at the top of the division, mainly because of how he appeals to the fans.
In a perfect world where rankings don’t matter, Gaethje would be a headlining fighter every single time. So maybe, for the first time in a long time, the UFC should really consider what it has on its hands with “The Highlight.” Following his loss to Poirier at UFC on Fox 29, Gaethje said he believes he has five fights left in his career. So, with a sub-.500 record in the UFC, if he’s not on track to a title shot, it’s best for the UFC to give the fans the most exciting match-ups possible for Gaethje.
The most exciting match-ups don’t just mean epic wars like he’s had against Alvarez and Poirier, but an opportunity to showcase just how talented he really is. No matter what you want to believe after watching Gaethje’s last two fights, there is true talent in the former All-American collegiate wrestler. His zombie-like toughness is what makes fans rise to their feet, but we don’t need to see Gaethje put into the canvas just because he’s a fighter who refuses to give up, even when he’s out.
The former World Series of Fighting champion posted an incredible comeback win against Michael Johnson that showed not only his heart, but the striking talent that led him to where he was when the UFC signed him. Now it’s time for Gaethje to show why he’s at the top of the game in his division. The fireworks that rise in all of his fights can still be there, but we should want to see the complete fighter, not just the zombie.
It’s appreciation that we must give to Gaethje rather than a round of applause when we see him in the Octagon. He may never be the UFC champion, but that’s OK. It isn’t necessary to continue to push this need to watch him fight until he self-destructs. That’s not a knock on Gaethje for never giving up — he’s hardly at fault for having heart and toughness — but there could be match-ups that are more beneficial to the remaining time he has inside the UFC.
Without naming names, maybe a wrestler who doesn’t have the striking talent that Gaethje has would be a fun match-up. Or perhaps Gaethje can be paired with a fighter who heavily relies on their ground game. The Rock-‘Em-Sock-‘Em style that makes everyone stand up is fun, but to truly appreciate Gaethje, it’s time the UFC starts providing the lightweight fighter with match-ups that truly showcase his full talent as an elite fighter.