Despite losing to former UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez via third-round knockout earlier this month at UFC 218, Justin Gaethje still believes he exited the Octagon a winner. That’s a hard concept to agree with, but not when you consider the type of fighter Gaethje is.
The former World Series of Fighting (WSOF) lightweight champion was approaching his fight opposite Alvarez as his chance to prove he’s the most violent fighter in the promotion. While “Highlight” ultimately lost to Alvarez in a back-and-forth Fight of the Year candidate, Gaethje believes he showcased his true appetite for violence, which allowed him to avoid a decision.
“It’s crazy, the way I fight, it’s definitely hard to - I would argue to anybody that I won the first round,” Gaethje explained during a recent appearance on MMA Tonight on SiriusXM Rush. “I did some major damage to his lead leg in that first round. He did a good job of putting his hands on me but definitely didn’t do a lot of damage. He definitely beat me in that second round and in the third round, I thought it was a close fight. If it would have went to the scorecards, I’m sure he would have got it because of the takedown or something and he was a little bit more active with punches but I cause a lot of damage when I do land my strikes and it’s hard to judge that.
“I’m glad I got knocked out instead of going to a decision and losing because that’s not the way I want to lose. I’m happy with my performance. I feel like I won because I tried so hard. My preparation was there and ultimately I went out and did what I go to do and that’s entertain people and entertain myself really. And I had fun.”
Gaethje, 29, had amassed an unscathed 18-0 professional record before encountering Alvarez at UFC 218. Despite tasting defeat for the first time in his impressive career, the fan favorite doesn’t plan on changing his approach to fighting entering 2018.
“At the end of the day, it’s an unforgiving sport,” said Gaethje. “All of a sudden I could get knocked out three times, so you just never know with this sport. I’m definitely not gonna change anything. There’s not a lot of people that can sit there and take the punishment that I can deliver.
“I need to be in better shape. I was definitely trying to avoid grappling exchanges because I didn’t want to get tired . . . but those are things that can be fixed.”
Considering Alvarez is widely considered one of the best lightweight contenders on the planet, Gaethje shouldn’t have to do much to regain momentum in the 155-pound division, especially if he continues to produce Fight of the Year knocks.
“With the way I fight, the UFC’s not stupid,” said Gaethje. “For one, they probably know that they’re don’t have me forever. I’m not gonna be around. They don’t have but six to seven more fights out of me. I believe that I’m one of the top competitors in this division in the world, so I’m gonna keep fighting people at the top of the division for right now.
“I definitely would have wanted to call someone out ahead of me had I won this fight but since I lost I don’t think I have that position anymore. But they’re not gonna make me fight someone way back there. From a business standpoint, of course I’m not gonna fight someone that’s unranked or something like that. I think I’m on the same page as the UFC right now and luckily, one loss doesn’t kill you. Two or three does so I’ve got to go out there, and get a big win in my next fight, it doesn’t matter who it’s against.”
Even with his recent knockout loss to Alvarez, Gaethje remains on the short list of available title contenders entering 2018. He has quickly become one of the most exciting fighters on the UFC roster and a guy who can hold down an entire main card based on the way he fights. Because of that, Gaethje won’t have to do much damage control after drawing the short straw against “Underground King.”