mma / Columns

Justin Gaethje: The Lightweight Champion We Need

April 3, 2019 | Posted by Evan Zivin
Justin Gaethje

With all the murkiness that has been present in the UFC lightweight division for what feels like forever and a bottle of Proper No. 12, the sport really needs someone to save it from slipping any further into madness.

Justin Gaethje may not be the fighter to save it, but it sure would be damn entertaining to see him try.

Gaethje is the definition of a fan’s fighter. He’s the fighter who understands that putting on a show is just as valuable, if not more valuable, than putting himself in the best position to win.

He’s the fighter who can wrestle you to death but would much rather stand and trade, wading through your shots so we can land his own.

He’s the fighter who’s willing to put himself in danger and take risks if it means finding a way to end a fight.

Also, he’s the fighter who understands his own worth but also isn’t interested in picking and choosing opponents, so you know UFC must love the guy. Well, provided he doesn’t complain too loudly about his pay.

The former World Series of Fighting Lightweight Champion has had a bit of a stop and go start to his UFC career, from banishing Michael Johnson to the land of the featherweights to tough losses against upcoming Interim title challenger Dustin Poirier and Eddie Alvarez (the guy who went to Japan and got wrecked on Sunday) to finding a very effective method for silencing James Vick.

That’s what led to Justin’s main event on Saturday night against Edson Barboza, a fighter who’s circled the drain of contendership but has never been able to fall into that position himself.

Well, after what Gaethje did to him, he ain’t going to be a contender any time soon.

The fight wasn’t a long one and it was one Gaethje was in control of from the start, throwing leg kicks to counter and stymie Edson’s brutal kicks, moving forward to pressure Edson and keep him from getting comfortable.

There are writers who can describe Justin’s strategy much better than me (and get paid for it…) but, suffice to say, it worked to perfection, allowing Justin to catch Edson with a right hand, putting the Brazilian down and out halfway through the first round.

And, just like that, Justin Gaethje has a win against a Top 10 opponent and can continue to hold the distinction of having more performance bonuses than fights in the UFC.

Seriously, win or lose, you know you’re getting a show with Justin Gaethje.

It really is refreshing to see someone as honest of a person and as aggressive of a combatant. Definitely someone I’d be cool with if UFC…I dunno…booked into a title fight.

I’m not going to use this space to advocate for giving Justin Gaethje a shot at Khabib “The Beeb” Nurmagomedov. I just think that a world where Gaethje is a UFC champion is a world I wish I could live in.

I mean, to think of all the crap stinking over the lightweight division…

You have Conor McGregor, the man who started the initial logjam by winning the title and then not defending it in favor of letting Floyd Mayweather punch him in the face, selling whiskey, and smashing iPhones (among other alleged awful things).

They say he doesn’t fight anymore. *WINK*

There’s the champion, who legitimized himself by trouncing McGregor and then couldn’t go five seconds without literally throwing that goodwill away. Plus, the more he flashes his religion and ultra conservative morals and ethics, the more he starts to resemble a Disney villain.

There’s Tony Ferguson, the man who demonstrated that the reason his fighting style is so crazy is because he actually is crazy…

…seriously, I hope you’re getting the help you need…

After that are the guys fighting for the Interim title at UFC 236 in two weeks. In one corner you have Dustin Poirier, who’s much improved but is still struggling to get past Conor calling him a “peahead” 5 years ago, and, in the other, Max Holloway, the UFC Featherweight Champion who’s getting the chance to logjam another division just because he made more sense in this fight than any other lightweights, which fair enough.

After that are guys who are fun to watch but are hard to get invested in because they feel like they’re a step below the contenders, like Al Iaquinta (lost to Khabib) and Kevin Lee (lost to Tony).

I guess there’s Donald Cerrone. He’s one of those fighters no one would object to seeing in a title fight since he usually brings the goods no matter who he’s staring down. Plus, he’ll bring a case of Budweiser to the after party.

Maybe that’s the direction UFC should go in to determine the next challenger for Khabib’s title…

Instead of Conor getting the fight, since UFC doesn’t need him now that ESPN is paying them upfront for exclusive rights to air Payperviews (just what the fans asked for – more paywalls!) and instead of the Poirier/Holloway winner getting the next crack, since interim titles only matter when it’s a month out from a Payperview and UFC has to invent a main event out of thin air, let’s just do the fight the fans really want:

Cerrone vs. Gaethje

Or rather…Gaethje vs. Cerrone (I don’t want to earn the wrath of “The Highlight” after what he just did in Philadelphia…)

It’ll be great. Winner gets a shot. Loser buys shots.

If UFC is still only booking fights that sell, they won’t have to try very hard to sell that one. It’s one of the few fights they can promote as two guys looking to tear each other’s head off with a reasonable chance that’s actually what we’ll get when the door closes.

You won’t be able to see action like that anywhere else this side of a Diaz brother.

It’d also be the perfect kind of fight to really cement Gaethje as the Lidellian monolith he’s capable of becoming. Let’s see how much further he can ascend before his chin gives out and he’s reduced to fighting for chicken scratch being thrown at him by Oscar de la Hoya.

They never say the way down would be pretty but that doesn’t mean it can’t be worth watching, right?

Evan Zivin has been writing for 411 MMA since May of 2013. Evan loves the sport, and likes to takes a lighthearted look at the world of MMA in his writing…usually.

article topics :

Justin Gaethje, Evan Zivin