At World Series of Fighting (WSOF) 19 back in March, the Lightweight title was on the line as the undefeated Justin Gaethje took on renowned hard-hitting bruiser, Luis "Baboon" Palomino.
Gaethje and Palomino turned in a classic fight in a three-round war (watch video highlights here). There were so many hard blows landed that you literally couldn't blink, thinking at any moment either man could drop the other to the canvas.
How could Gaethje top such a spectacular title defense? For WSOF the answer was easy: Do it again! This time, however, Gaethje has vowed to finish Palomino "much more violently" than he did the first time around at WSOF 23, which takes place this Friday (Sept. 18, 2015) inside Comerica Theatre inside Phoenix, Arizona.
What's motivating Gaethje in this return bout, knowing he already successfully defended the title against Palomino once? Does he think Palomino has not earned an immediate rematch? Does he feel that Palomino was his toughest challenger to date, one who he needs to knock out to prove a point?
Gaethje answered all of these questions and more in a recent interview with MMAmania.com (although the one question he can't answer is what kind of fight the rematch will be).
"I just know that I have to be in good shape. The pace could be the same, could be slower, or it could be a little faster y'know -- or a little bit more grappling. I don't really know how it's going to go. I'm just making sure that my cardio is top notch. I know that no matter what if my cardio and preparation are good there's no one in the world who can beat me."
Some fighters might feel that giving someone who lost a world title fight an immediate rematch is disrespectful, but Gaethje finds extra motivation from the fact Palomino thinks he was one punch away.
"I knew he was going to be fast and he hits hard. He thinks he hurt me really bad for some reason and I was never really hurt in that fight. He clipped me with one good left hand that was a really good punch. It should have put me to sleep but it didn't. He thinks I'm scared because he can punch hard, but I'm training with Nate Marquardt tomorrow morning so I'm not worried about people who hit hard."
Speaking of people who hit hard, Gaethje cornered Brandon Girtz for his fight with Melvin Guillard. As you'll see from Gaethje's comments, it wasn't the easiest choice -- he trains with Girtz, but he knows and respects Guillard, too.
"Brandon Girtz is freakin' tough. He's one of the strongest Lightweights I've ever had put his hands on me. He's got caught and knocked out a couple of times, but that was nothing bad for Melvin. People want to sit here and say it was bad for Melvin, but they don't want to give credit to Girtz. Y'know I fought Melvin last, the fight before I fought Melvin he was in our camp so our coaches were coaching him, that was a tough fight for Melvin. I've trained with Melvin many times. Man if I fought Girtz, he could do the same to me, because he's that strong."
For those who missed the post-fight photos, Guillard broke several bones in his hand during round two, so for him to even finish the bout was on heart and guts, a trait Gaethje wants everybody to know Guillard has in spades.
"Melvin's been treated like s--t by a lot of people, and it's hard to even care when (that happens). We put our life on the line, and you've got these fans out here that don't give a s--t, don't care, can't even take anything into perspective. They're just like 'Ohh he's past his prime, blah blah blah.' No. Melvin fought a tough man and he got beat. It was a bad match up for Melvin."
It may speak as much to Gaethje's character as to Guillard's heart for him to respect "Young Assassin" so highly while cornering his opponent. If "Cold Roll" stays on a roll, Gaethje could wind up fighting him some day, too.
"I've wrestled my whole life and there's not a lot of people that put my feet above my head and Girtz is able to do that if he times it right. I haven't been tossed around like he's able to do in my whole life. He's special. He's got something special when it comes to grappling. No one's gonna doubt Brandon Girtz any more. We've got great things going on down here at Grudge Training Center. If and when I do have to fight one of my teammates it'll be for a belt and a s--t ton of money so it won't matter then."
The focus right now, though, is on Sept. 18, having to face Palomino for a second time, where Gaethje hopes to prove once and for all that no matter how good Palomino is, Gaethje will always be that much better.
"There's not many fights Palomino goes backward and gets bullied in. That's the only way I'm going to beat him, is to go out there and physically take it to him. He's unbelievably physical, unbelievably strong. If I take a knockout then I'm coming to fight him again and then I'm gonna whoop his ass again. He ain't gonna get lucky twice in a row. I'm gonna go out there and give it my all like I always have. (I'd beat him) nine out of 10 times."
If Palomino has a 1 in 10 chance, you'll have to tune in this Friday night live on NBC Sports to see if that's the one. Complete audio of our interview is below and complete WSOF 23 coverage can be found right here on fight night.