Justin Gaethje wasn’t at his best going into his recent big title fight.
Suffering a first round rear-naked choke submission loss to Charles Oliveira at UFC 274 in May 2022 (watch highlights), Gaethje hasn’t fought since. It’s rare for fighters to enter their bouts at 100 percent, but this time around, “The Highlight” almost didn’t even make it to the fight at all.
“Life’s crazy, man ... nobody knows what we go through,” Gaethje said today (Thurs., Nov. 10, 2022) at a special UFC 281 media day (h/t MMA Fighting). “My dumbass, 18 days before I fought Charles, I was riding my bicycle to the gas station to get some nicotine patches, and I had a vicious crash on my bike. Smoked my head off the road, road rash all down my back, and then go in there and took that damage that I took in that fight. That’s why I’m taking so much time off.
“It’s just crazy what we go through,” he continued. “Each and every one of us has different circumstances. That was such a hurdle in my last [fight]. As soon as it happened I had to go home and act like it didn’t happen, act like my vision didn’t go 100 percent f—ked up for two seconds. And that’s what we’ve been doing since we were kids. You put that doubt aside. And as soon as it happened, it was like, ‘Okay, what do I do next? How do I continue to improve and continue to be ready for this fight?’”
A general wild man, Gaethje has enjoyed his temporary offseason getting his nose fixed, golfing and even skiing into pools off ramps. In the case of his crash, nothing intentionally out there was a part of his plan.
“I wasn’t doing anything stupid,” Gaethje said. “My pedal snapped off, when I was riding. It was just crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy. Stupid is what it was. I was 12 weeks into a camp. All I know is to compete, you know? I don’t let myself feel anything. I try to take away the emotions so I’m constantly either running from it, or I feel like I can control it. But in that instance, I was like, ‘Oh, I f—ked up. This is not good.’ But I didn’t feel compromised externally. Not even internally, because at that moment I was ready for war.
“I had a crazy rug burn,” he added. “I was lubing myself up all day, every day, trying to get it to go away, and it went away really, really well. But it was f—king stupid is what it was, at the end of the day. But I had put so much work in, there was no chance I wasn’t — I’ve never backed out of a fight. I didn’t feel I needed to then, I still don’t think I should have, and I’m glad I didn’t. That was a great fight. It was very emotional because I was at home. I think that’s the mistake I made, I let the moment get to me, and that’s the lesson you learn.”
The former interim Lightweight champion will be watching UFC 281 this weekend (Sat., Nov. 12, 2022) closely as he eyes the Dustin Poirier versus Michael Chandler clash for his eventual 2023 return to action.