If you have seen Justin Gaethje fight once, you will never forget him.
The UFC lightweight is like no one else you’ve ever seen fight. His matches are a cacophony of violence, punches, kicks, knees and elbows delivered at a pace that would make Usain Bolt winded.
NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins was nicknamed “The Human Highlight Film,” and it’s a name that is appropriate for Gaethje whenever he has gloves on his hands.
It’s fast, it’s savage, it’s scary and it’s, oh, so fun.
He fights Dustin Poirier on Saturday in Glendale, Arizona, in the main event of UFC Fight Night on Fox. It’s one of those fights, given the styles of both men, that fans may be speaking of reverentially years from now: “Yeah, that was great, but I remember this fight back in ’18 between Gaethje and Poirier that was so good it’s impossible to forget.”
Here’s a secret, though: Gaethje doesn’t enter the cage looking to do that, or even to win Fight of the Night.
“I don’t consciously go out there thinking that I want to put on an exciting fight, but it’s the result of what happens,” Gaethje told Yahoo Sports. “My mission is to get out there and break this dude as fast and as violently as possible.
“That’s why I am not trying to win Fight of the Night. I want to get Performance of the Night. That’s what I am shooting for, to get in there and get that quick win. If my opponent hangs in there and it goes a while, then great, I’m all for getting Fight of the Night and getting a double bonus. But I’m looking to get in there and inflict as much damage as quickly as I can to break him and then get out of there with my hand raised.”
Gaethje is coming off the first loss of his career, after 18 consecutive wins, in an amazing fight with Eddie Alvarez at UFC 218 in Detroit.
It was an incredible back-and-forth fight before Alvarez finished it in the third round after inflicting a tremendous amount of damage.
It was exactly the kind of fight that is rough on family and loved ones. It’s difficult to imagine how a parent, or a spouse, or a sibling can sit there and watch someone absorb the kind of punishment that Gaethje took in that fight, and that he often takes given his style. But his parents are pros at this. They’ve seen him go through it before, so they’re more relaxed than most.
“I think my attitude and my mindset kind of comforts them, especially after something like that,” Gaethje said of his parents. “I think they were really worried when I was at the hospital, when they hadn’t seen me at all. But when I got back and they got to give me a hug, it was over.
“It was just on to the next one. My Mom’s been watching me so long. It’s her fault. Her and my dad, they put me in wrestling at 4 years old. They’d travel to Phoenix or Tucson, two- or three-hour drives every weekend, to see me compete. They’ve seen me lose. They’ve seen me get concussions in wrestling. It’s nothing new to them, so they can deal with it better than most, I think.”
A win on Saturday would be huge for Gaethje, who at No. 6 is ranked a spot behind Poirier in the UFC’s lightweight division.
A victory opens the door for a series of major fights. Only Conor McGregor, Tony Ferguson, Alvarez and Edson Barboza are ranked ahead of Poirier and Gaethje at lightweight.
For Gaethje, there is a lot at stake, but his mindset and approach won’t change.
“I think I’ve learned from that [Alvarez] fight, and there were a lot of lessons for me to be in that one,” he said. “I got too comfortable and it cost me. I’m not going to change who I am, but I will be a better version of me because of that experience.”
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