“The Highlight” Justin Gaethje has the only statistic a lightweight needs to back up that kind of nickname: 13-0. He’ll be looking to extend that undefeated streak and retain his lightweight title against Luis “Baboon” Palomino on at WSOF 19 March 28th.
There are very few MMA titleholders at the elite level who can say they’ve never lost a professional bout. Ronda Rousey is one of them, Chris Weidman is another.
Heck, even “Funky” Ben Askren if you’re naming names.
A name that is occasionally overlooked when the topic comes up is “The Highlight” Justin Gaethje, the World Series of Fighting (WSOF) lightweight champion, 13-0 so far as a pro. He’s bested all contenders, even those who failed to make weight, and is scheduled to put his title on the line again against Luis “Baboon” Palomino on March 28.
Gaethje spoke to MMAmania.com about the challenge of staying on top, the lessons he’s learned in his young career, and the striking similarities he shares with another tall lightweight in “Cowboy” Donald Cerrone.
Firstly, Gaethje is excited about the support he’ll receive being on “home turf” at the Comerica Center in Phoenix, as the Grudge Training Center in Arvada, Colorado, is close by and all his Arizona State wrestling fans will be in the house.
“This is huge. I’ve sold a lot of tickets and it’s gonna be really loud. I’m sure even on TV you’ll be able to tell.”
His next opponent, Palomino, has landed HEAVY knockout blows in his last two fights. Gaethje is prepared to face the challenge with one motto on his mind: always engage and never back down.
“(I gotta) stay in good position, you know? I think a lot of times people get knocked out when they’re moving backwards. If you’re gonna get punched, y’know better on the forehead than on the chin. I keep my head pointed, I move forward. It’s all reactions, you turn your brain off and turn your reactions on once that bell rings.”
If Palomino plans to go to the later rounds, Gaethje has something in mind there, too. He’s learned to weather a storm and come back with devastating leg kicks, something that worked well against Brian Cobb.
“He did not hit hard by any means. I knew he wasn’t gonna knock me out no matter what what happened, no matter where he hit me or what position I was in. So I started taking chances I shouldn’t have, making mistakes I shouldn’t have, but those are things I’ve learned I can’t do.”
There’s not much Gaethje can’t do in a fight: win by leg kicks, win by TKO with elbows, even use his kicks to set up a highlight-reel knockout with his hands.
But what does an undefeated champ do to relax when he’s not kicking ass?
“You know I cannot sit in the house so, I live in beautiful Colorado there’s so many things to do outside. I love to snowboard during the winter, I love to be on the lake during the summer. I’m crazy, I’m crazy just like Donald (Cerrone). I know Donald, we’ve hung out before. If I have money I’m gonna be out doing something.”
That’s the kind of thing that keeps promoters up at nights worried their main events will fall apart when a fighter takes his love of extreme sports too far, but Gaethje insists WSOF President Ray Sefo has nothing to worry about.
“I don’t think so. This is who I’ve been since I was a little kid. Yeah that would suck, but I don’t do anything half-assed, so I tend not to get hurt so far. Right now I haven’t snowboarded in three weeks. I won’t be going until after my fight. I can’t risk not getting a paycheck.”
Gaethje applies the exact same philosophy in training camp: going full force all the time as he readies for a fight.
“If I did get a cut over my eye, I would try my best to hide it and still fight. I give 110 percent every workout, every sparring session, it’s hard to get hurt when you’re giving 110 percent the whole time. When you take a second off here or there, that’s when you get hurt.”
Knock on wood and hope that nothing happens to Justin Gaethje between now and March 28th, because “The Highlight” aims to go 110 percent at the Comerica Theatre in Phoenix on NBC Sports and give fans another exciting fight.
The complete audio of our chat with Gaethje is below.