Whatever you do, you have to give the man credit: Justin Gaethje practices what he preaches.
Gaethje promised a memorable battle of aggression and delivered exactly that at WSOF 19, retaining his World Series of Fighting lightweight title with a spectacular third-round TKO win over Luis Palomino on March 28. It’s a fight that may go down as the greatest in the promotion’s history, and it was classic Gaethje — nonstop forward pressure, dramatic swings in momentum, and the raw, unhinged aggression that the undefeated 26-year-old has built his reputation on.
“When I’m in there, I’m in a crazy world. I don’t know where I’m at, but I’m there,” Gaethje told MMAFighting.com.
“I knew for a fact that [Palomino] was going to be a bad dude, and he was. He was. I was prepared for that and I wanted that and I got it and I love it.”
The win, and the widespread praise Gaethje received for it, now becomes a minor form validation for the WSOF champ. As the lightweight has progressed in his mixed martial arts career, he’s gradually become more vocal in his disdain for fighters who favor wins over entertainment, regardless of how boring or unremarkable those wins may be. It’s a frankness uncommon to hear in the fight game, but it’s how Gaethje see the trends developing around him.
Action fighters are at a premium, he says, and when executed on a world-class level, action fighters with their forward pressure can be the toughest puzzles to crack — as demonstrated with Rafael dos Anjos‘ stunning demolition of former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis at UFC 185.
“That made a lot of sense to me,” Gaethje said. “As a wrestler, I know what we’ve been through. I know what dos Anjos has been through, I know what (Khabib) Nurmagomedov has been through, just the challenges that they’ve been through their whole life. I don’t think Pettis was a wrestler. I’ve never done taekwondo, but I’m sure it’s not as excruciating, as physical as wrestling is.
“To be a top wrestler you have to make yourself quit. Numerous times, I’ve made myself quit, I’ve made myself cry because I couldn’t go anymore and I knew I should be able to go more. Just things like that, you can’t teach a person, you don’t learn those lessons on the streets or anywhere except challenging yourself everyday in the wrestling room.”
For now, Gaethje (14-0) remains under contract as WSOF’s lightweight champion, though he’s been anything but shy regarding his ultimate aspirations of division domination. And when it comes to dos Anjos’ underdog win, he says he ultimately wasn’t surprised because he feels he could’ve done the exact same.
“(Being the man to beat) Pettis, it could’ve been Nurmagomedov, it could’ve been dos Anjos, and it could’ve been me, because we’re all the same fighter — we pressure. Go forward,” Gaethje said. “You know, he could knock any one of us out — he’s powerful, he’s got great kicks — but if he doesn’t land that one shot, someone like me is going to run right through him because I’m never going to quit. Those little potshots that he throws sometimes, those are not going to faze me. I’m going to go right through them and keep trying to kill him.
“You go forward,” Gaethje continued. “You try to knock your opponent out. And that’s what dos Anjos did. Pettis, he believed in the hype. He believed in the hype. He didn’t come out there, he wasn’t aggressive, he didn’t try to kill dos Anjos and that’s what he gets.”