On Saturday night in Glendale we got to witness why every Justin Gaethje fight is a must see affair. The fearless WSOF champ came into the UFC with a reputation for reckless abandon and that’s what we’ve gotten in three fights with the promotion. But with his granite chin starting to show cracks and his record now sitting at 1-2, I have to wonder if Gaethje is burning himself out setting the building on fire every time he fights.
We’re talking about a guy who has NCAA Division 1 wrestling in his back pocket. A guy who has mangled the legs of his previous two opponents but still waded in for the kill, getting finished both times in the process. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the fruits of his UFC performances, but at the same time I’m left disappointed that he’s let two winnable fights slip away because of an inability (unwillingness) to switch tactical gears.
At $100,000/$100,000 per fight plus a near guaranteed $50,000 bonus, at least he’s getting paid fairly well for his services. But how long can he continue to offer them and still deliver when he’s taking this kind of damage? How long until his fights go from violent coin tosses to predictable defeats as smarter fighters prey on his desire to keep it entertaining above all else?
It’s worth noting that this is all worst case scenario hand wringing. Gaethje could turn things around with a few wins and we’d all be singing his praises. And while the UFC is notoriously fickle, one thing they rarely do is turn their backs on their names that live by the sword and die by the sword. Diego Sanchez continues to show up in the co-main event of cards despite being unable to string two wins together in over five years.
But I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say I see more than just a blood and guts fighter in Gaethje. Small adjustments in strategy could be enough to turn these noble losses into rousing victories, and I doubt the crowds would begrudge Justin much if he took a step backwards once in a while or concentrated on kicking the injured legs out from under his opponents rather than continuing to slug away in that phone booth.
It could be the difference between him having a million or ten million in the bank when he finally walks away from the sport.