While many fans, analysts, trainers and promoters all have high expectations of lightweight prospect Justin Gaethje, perhaps no one has higher hopes than the man, himself.
Having fought 15 times combined between his amateur and professional career, Gaethje has emerged unscathed thus far with a spotless record.
Perhaps most impressive of all has been his performances against top veterans of the sport. Gaethje put away Drew Fickett in just 12 seconds and earlier this year in his World Series of Fighting Debut, the Arizona native steamrolled Gesias Cavalcante in less than two and a half minutes with a brutal doctor stoppage due to standing elbows.
Gaethje spoke with MMAmania.com about his great first impression, trying not to believe the hype and what helped him gain the attention of top promotions in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You wanted to make a good first impression in your World Series of Fighting debut and you crushed JZ Cavalcante in less than half a round. Do you feel that you arrived with that performance?
Justin Gaethje: Yeah, I think it was important for my career. I knew it was the biggest opportunity I'd ever had and I was not gonna let that slip through my fingers. I just went out there and I know that either way, if you put on an exciting show, the fans are going to love you. That's my motto, put on an exciting fight, do the best I can and whatever happens, happens.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've brought up that you wished the fight against Cavalcante had gone longer. Why is that?
Justin Gaethje: I wish it had gone longer. I feel I could have finished it without it being a doctor stoppage quite soon actually. I would have just gone balls0 to the wall. I would have liked to slam him. Same with my next opponent Brian Cobb. I'm not gonna put myself in bad positions if I don't need to. I'm better on my feet than I ever have been and I'm comfortable there, but thankfully I've got that safety net of the wrestling I've been doing my whole life. If I ever get clipped in a fight, I'll be shooting for a double leg no matter what.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You brought up your improving stand-up. Do you feel like because you won your last fight on the feet, that it was a showcase of just how well-rounded you're becoming?
Justin Gaethje: Yeah. When people gameplan, they pick a specific thing their opponent is good at and they prepare for that. I want to be as versatile as possible. I want people to look at me and go, "Damn, what are we gonna train for?" Will they try to take me down? That's not happening. Maybe they'll try to strike with me but they're gonna get hit. I don't mind getting hit. I'm game everywhere now.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you feel like you're the next big thing to come out of Grudge Training Center? That gym was the home of Shane Carwin and helped current UFC fighters like Brendan Schaub and Nate Marquardt rise to prominence. Where do you feel you stand?
Justin Gaethje: If not the next, then Brandon Thatch is the next big star. He just signed with UFC so I think he'll be the next big star out of our gym but I'm following his footsteps and I feel I'll be right there behind him.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I'd like to talk about hype, briefly. How do you respond to fans and media alike praising you as one of the next big stars at 155 pounds? How do you stay grounded?
Justin Gaethje: I watched Melvin when I was a kid and it's crazy how the world turns. He's such an asset to our team now, his motivation, his work ethic is second to none. He's the type of sparring partner that you know is ready to go. When you're in there against him, you'd better tuck that chin and be ready. It's great.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've already fought 15 times in just a few short years if you combine your amateur and pro career. Was it a goal to get as many fights as possible or did that just happen naturally?
Justin Gaethje: Same with anything, you have to put yourself out there on the line to get exposure. If I just fought once or twice a year, they might watch me fight, think I'm good but then they forget about me. On the lower level, people only remember the most recent stuff so I wanted to go out there as much as possible and stay current with the scene. It ended up working out for me.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What do you make of all the recent signings to the World Series of Fighting lightweight division? They've gone out of their way to pick up top guys like Lyle Beerbohm, Jacob Volkmann and more.
Justin Gaethje: I love it. The bigger names they are, the more I gain when I knock them off. I like fighting bigger name guys. It's a win-win situation for me. I'm not afraid to lose. I've lost before in wrestling. It's better for me because if I do go out there and somehow get beat, at least it came against a top guy. I'm gonna be fighting my ass off no matter what when I step into the cage.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Okay, let's talk more about you in general. I've read that you have a twin brother. Is that a fraternal twin or an identical twin?
Justin Gaethje: We're fraternal. I'm actually half hispanic but he looks way more hispanic than I do. I've got blond hair, he's got dark brown hair. It doesn't make sense. He helped build me into the person I am today. The competitive nature that we had, I took and we built each other up and we helped each other so much. It's hard being away from my family. I try to go home as often as possible but they're just a phone call away so it's not too bad.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Many fighters have plenty of personal goals. Do you have a list of things you'd really like to accomplish in your MMA career?
Justin Gaethje: I'd really like to build up my fanbase, put on exciting fights and have people recognize me as a fighter, a mixed martial artist that they can't miss. I want people to look forward to my fights because they're always exciting. I don't have any big dreams of UFC yet. I'm taking this one fight at a time, get some bonuses if they're out there and take it one fight at a time. I just got out of college so that's pretty rough and I'm just focused on getting by at the moment.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How do you go into a fight against experienced veterans and treat them like any other fighter? You've had such tremendous success thus far against some pretty tough guys.
Justin Gaethje: Well the thing you have to remember is that they are just any other fighter. It's just a name. They still breathe, bleed and think like me. We all get nervous. We all get scared. I've competed in one on one situations my entire life and once I get out there to that cage, it doesn't matter who's in there. I'm in there with them, they're in there with me and I have to fight. I'll watch a video to see their pace or their style but I don't watch specifics. I've got my fight, my goals in the fight I want to accomplish and I've got my gameplan because if I start thinking about what they want to do, I'll be responding to them and I'll be reacting and my head won't be in the right place. I go out there and I attack. The more you prepare, the more confident you can be.