We all love Justin Gaethje. That’s a given since the former WSOF champ arrived in the UFC with a perfect 17-0 record and beat the brakes off Michael Johnson in a thrilling back and forth FOTY contender. But since then he’s gone 0-2 with knockout losses to Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier. What’s frustrating to fans is that he was well on the way to winning both fights when his opponents turned things around and managed to starch him.
Once being touted as a potential superfight opponent for Conor McGregor, Gaethje now finds himself in the middle of the pack and at risk of being relegated to Stephens, Cowboy, or even worse: Guillard status. Now in a wide ranging interview with FloCombat, he says he’s identified the problem and is making changes to address it leading up to his UFC Fight Night 135 fight with James Vick on August 25th.
”Really, what I’ve been focused on is not becoming too complacent and not having too much fun out there,” Gaethje told FloCombat. “Right before that knee [against Alvarez], I landed some huge uppercuts and I got too relaxed. In my mind, he was going away and you cannot do that at this level, especially against guys like Eddie Alvarez. Same thing happened with Dustin [Poirier]. I should have learned my lesson, but I get in there and I get too comfortable.
”I need to go in there and I need to be scared at all times. I need to understand that it can happen with one shot and that one shot can happen at any time, especially when I’m fighting guys in the top 10 of the UFC. So just staying focused, staying vigilant in my positions has really been my focus in this camp.”
”It’s disappointing more than anything,” Gaethje said about the criticism he receives. “As much as I want to say I do it for the fans, I don’t do it for the fans, I do it for myself. I do it for my family. This is just the person that I am. I couldn’t change the way I fight if I wanted to. I can be more vigilant about staying in better positions at all times. I cannot become comfortable and I can’t have fun.
”It needs to be a job to me. It can’t be a complete pleasure for me. I’ve got to go in there and I’ve got to make it a job.”
There’s definitely a wide middle ground between swang and bang madness and complete technical restraint, one that we hope Gaethje can find a new place to live as his UFC competition continues.
James Vick made headlines when he called Justin “the Homer Simpson of MMA,” and while that’s obvious hyperbole there’s enough truth in that assessment to sting a little. And while we have our doubts Vick will be able to do what Alvarez and Poirier managed, there’s limits to how far a Homer can go, and we want to see Gaethje in his rightful place at the top of the sport.