How Gaethje became the UFC's most dependable star…
Justin Gaethje has stacked up £400,000 in performance bonuses since joining the UFC… ‘The Highlight’ guarantees brutality and has become Dana White’s most dependable star ahead of Charles Oliveira title clash
- Justin Gaethje is box office entertainment and never in a boring fight
- He is the UFC’s dream competitor and takes on Charles Oliveira this weekend
- ‘The Highlight’ is a perfect moniker as he always delivers memorable moments
- In eight of nine UFC contests, he has taken home a $50,000 performance bonus
Justin Gaethje has stepped into the UFC’s octagon nine times and banked a $50,000 performance bonus in eight of them.
‘The Highlight’ is about as apt a moniker as the American could have and fireworks are guaranteed when he is booked for a fight.
This weekend, UFC lightweight champion Charles Oliveira will be on the receiving end, trying to quieten the noise and chaos Gaethje brings with him.
Justin Gathje is as close to guaranteed entertainment as a fighter can be for the UFC
In addition to ‘The Highlight’, Gaethje is also frequently branded ‘the most violent man in MMA’, not the snappiest name but one that carries enormous weight.
‘A lot of people say I’m reckless and I take too many shots,’ he previously quipped. ‘I take shots on the forehead. There’s nothing wrong with that. It puts me in punching range.’
But he has also railed against the perception that he is just a slugger with a ridiculous level of toughness.
Gaethje has evolved into a more calculated fighter but maintains his core style under the expert tutelage of Trevor Wittmann.
The bull-headed aggression, pure love of a scrap and will to win remains as strong as ever but hard defeats by Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier have taught him the folly in taking unnecessary risks.
He previously explained: ‘I chose to fight like that in the beginning and then I chose to change things and be more methodical.
‘You can make it as complicated as you possibly want but at the end of the day it was, ‘Let’s not get hit.’ If they don’t hit you hard enough, you don’t go to sleep.
‘If you don’t go to sleep, you can cause damage and I’m the best at that. It was really just a choice.’
In an organisation packed with athletes pushing themselves to the limit, Gaethje still relishes the brutal nature of a fight like no other.
He is an adrenaline junkie and taking to the octagon gives him the biggest hit.
‘When your life is on the line, your body dumps different chemicals into your body that you do not get dumped into your body unless you are in a life or death situation,’ he told CBS.
Gaethje has the ability to make his opponents’ life miserable as he did with Tony Ferguson
Charles Oliveira (L) insists he is better than opponent Justin Gaethje (R) in every department
‘That feeling is special. To be comfortable there, I can’t tell you how to do it but I have found comfortability there and I love being in that place. There is no other feeling on earth that can match it, I believe.
‘I’m talking damage and nerves, and bone to bone. When one person’s bones touches another person’s bones, something has to give there. It’s physics. It’s as true as true can be — when bones touch, one shall give.’
‘As true as true can be.’ It is that simplicity at the heart of competing that appeals to Gaethje. He can forgive himself for coming up short technically, as he did in his first title shot against Khabib, but being out-willed is unnacceptable.
In 2021’s Fight of the Year, he went three savage rounds with Michael Chandler.
His American compatriot dug in hard and showed enormous heart, taking Gaethje to the scorecards for only the third time in his career.
A back-and-forth, swinging for the fences kind of fight is ill-advised against the 33-year-old and he boasts a career knockout percentage of 80.
The former lightweight title contender put Michael Chandler through hell for three rounds
Usually, Gaethje wears down his opponent first rather than just finding one killer shot. He takes them into the deep waters where he can still keep his head above the surface.
The main weapon in the arsenal is his leg kicks. Repeated, scything strikes to his opponents’ calves and thighs immobilse them.
He breaks them down and usually it is a slow death, leaving plenty of time for the crowd and UFC top brass to enjoy his work.
This helps explain how he takes home performance bonuses almost every time.
Six Fight of the Nights, four Performance of the Nights and he has already taken half-a-million dollars in UFC bonus money.
He polished off James Vick with a beautiful right hand, put Michael Johnson away after a barrage of knees and even tried to show mercy to Donald Cerrone when he’d hammered him to his knees.
A flashing right hand did for Edson Barboza and the list goes on. He even won the first fight of his professional MMA career with a slam KO.
Oliveira says he does not need to simply take Gaethje to the floor to win Saturday’s contest
Gaethje’s star would move to another level if he is to add the lightweight belt
Gaethje has a wrestling background and no doubt the discipline helped forge his mentality but he fell in love with striking and loves nothing more than going toe-to-toe.
The UFC signed Gaethje in 2017 from the World Series of Fighting and he has rapidly become a go-to man. They know how valuable a commodity he is and persuaded him to ink a new deal late last year.
It was instantly repaid in the classic encounter with Chandler and Saturday night promises to be another must-see Gaethje night.
Oliveira is a wonderful technician but it would be no surprise at all to see ‘The Highlight’ celebrating with his customary back-flip off the cage.
In four years, he has established himself as the UFC’s most dependable entertainer – now all Gaethje needs is some gold to round it off.
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