Justin Gaethje fights the extremely tough Rafael Fiziev in the pay-per-view (PPV) co-main event of UFC 286, which takes place this weekend (Sat., March 18, 2023) inside The O2 in London, England. And we could finally see the self-proclaimed “Most Exciting Fighter of All Time” use some of his wrestling in the cage.
Gaethje has never scored a takedown in his UFC career despite being an amateur wrestler from the tender age of four. That could change on Saturday night against Fiziev. In a new interview with CBSSports.com, “The Highlight” hinted at a higher than normal possibility of wrestling ... on a scale of 1-10.
“I’m going to say a six,” Gaethje said. “I think it’s always something that you should make them think about. So, I’ll ponder that.
“It’s always a risk assessment, obviously,” he continued. “Up until I got TKOed by Eddie Alvarez — and the same with [Dustin] Poirier — I thought I was being more successful in that area. So, I didn’t necessarily find it necessary to take that shot. Against Khabib and Oliveira, I didn’t want to take it to the ground because they’ve been doing jiu-jitsu their whole life and I’m a wrestler.
“Against Chandler, I used my wrestling to reverse a takedown,” Gaethje continued. “I guess I got a takedown in that fight. You know, he initiated it, but I wound up on top. I think I was one takedown.”
Gaethje’s one takedown attempt in UFC came against the aforementioned Alvarez back in 2017 and it didn’t go well. Alvarez shrugged off the takedown and shoved Gaethje backward, sending him into a full reverse somersault.
These days, Gaethje has looked his best when he’s taken a more technical approach to fighting. His win over Tony Ferguson was a masterclass, and he’s looking to get hit less these days rather than succumb to the urge to brawl.
“My purpose is to be the best in the world,” he said. “The most exciting fighter, it wasn’t purposely. It was just who I am. It’s how I compete. Styles make matches. I’ve been very lucky to find dance partners that allow me to fight those fights and have those exciting fights. Chandler, Barboza.”
“The plan is to never get hit again,” he added. “That would be ideal. But, this is not the game we’re playing.”
Gaethje is coming back from nearly a year off and nose surgery, which should help his cardio greatly moving forward.
“I feel great. I feel like I’m in incredible shape, honestly,” he said. “Whether that’s just through working harder. I’ve always worked my hardest so I can’t imagine that I’ve worked that much harder than I have in the past. So I think the nose is a huge factor.”
He’s also enjoyed the time off.
“I think that’s one thing we have over sports that have seasons,” he said. “When I go through something like that, I’ve been able to take the time and really recover my mental health and my health overall. That in turn gives me the confidence that I’m able to go in there and perform the way that I want to perform.”
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 286 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard on ESPN2/ESPN+ at 3 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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