5 Defining Moments: Justin Gaethje

By Mark Raymundo Sep 12, 2019


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After suffering back-to-back losses to Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethje bounced back by going 2-0 in his last two outings. He knocked out James Vick and Edson Barboza, both inside the first round. On Sept. 14, the man they call “The Highlight” will step into the cage against Donald Cerrone for UFC Fight Night 158. The numbers below will show why Gaethje is one of the most thrilling fighters in any weight class today.

Amateur Aptitude

Before testing his skills in the pros, Gaethje tore up the amateur ranks, piling up seven victories without suffering a single defeat. Three of those seven victories came in the first round and only one fight went to a decision. That one fight was against Scott Cleve, who, like Gaethje, was undefeated at the time and who would go on to have a decent career in Bellator. Four months after his seventh amateur fight, Gaethje turned pro and won by slamming Kevin Croom at ROF 41: Bragging Rights.

Inaugural Champ

After three straight finishes in World Series of Fighting, Gaethje earned the right to contend for the organization’s very first lightweight title. He faced Richard Patishnock, who was coming off of two consecutive victories over Igor and Gregor Gracie. Come fight night, Patishnock proved no match for Gaethje, who was able to stop him by TKO at 1:09 of the first round.

Defense Minister

Just before getting signed by the UFC, Gaethje fought Luiz Firmino for his fifth title defense. Gaethje’s original opponent was Joao Zeferino, who had to withdraw due to an injury. The opponent change wasn’t a problem for The Highlight, who took out the replacement “Buscape” in the first round. About four months later, Gaethje announced that he had signed with the UFC and therefore was vacating the title. During his reign as lightweight champion, Gaethje went undefeated and, in addition to Buscape, bested Nick Newell, Melvin Guillard, Brian Foster and Luis Palomino twice.

Top Contender vs. Top Contender

Gaethje suffered his first career loss at the hands of Eddie Alvarez. On the strength of his previous performances and championship history, though, he was still a ranked lightweight. He then faced another quality opponent in Dustin Poirier, who just recently challenged Khabib Nurmagomedov for the UFC lightweight championship. Like in his fight with Alvarez, Gaethje, who himself is a volume striker, was outstruck by Poirier and eventually lost by fourth-round TKO. After that second setback, he was assigned a non-ranked opponent in James Vick for his next fight. Gaethje rebounded with a devastating first-round KO.

Bonus Chaser

In his most recent bout, against Edson Barboza in the main event of UFC on ESPN 2, Gaethje won yet another post-fight bonus, his sixth in five outings. That makes him the first fighter in UFC history to earn a post-fight bonus in each of their first five bouts. He now has four Fight of the Night bonuses (versus Barboza, Poirier, Alvarez and Michael Johnson) and two Performance of the Night bonuses (versus Vick and Johnson) to his credit. Advertisement

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