It seems that Justin Gaethje is finally learning the hard way that you have to fight strategically in order to survive at the highest level in the UFC.
Up until now, the former WSOF lightweight champion has prided himself on being an all-action offensive striker – a technical brawler if you will – who is always in his opponents face swinging heavy leather and has been more than happy to take a punch in order to land one of his own.
For the first 18 fights of his career that worked out well for ‘The Highlight’, who went undefeated and generated a considerable buzz as one of the sport’s most exciting fighters, but while he’s continued to deliver thrilling action in the Octagon, his reckless approach has since led to a KO defeat against Eddie Alvarez followed by a TKO loss to Dustin Poirier.
That appears to have been enough to finally convince Gaethje that he needs to change things up, with utilizing the wrestling skills that he already has being the obvious solution.
“It definitely would be a good idea,” Gaethje said on The MMA Hour. “I have to get people guessing if I’m going to take them down or not. They know what I’m coming with right now. Everyone knows I’m going to come in there and I’m going to stop your takedowns. So, yeah, it would benefit me to keep them guessing. I need to work it into my game plan.
Looking back, Gaethje admits that his wrestling credentials would have served him well in his last fight with Poirier.
“I’ve been wrestling my whole life. I should’ve and could’ve took him down a couple of times, especially when I had him rocked just to steal a round or two. For some reason, my mind will not let me do it.”
That being said, Gaethje says there are drawbacks to focusing on wrestling, though he thinks he has what it takes to overcome them.
“It gets you tired. If I’m going to get tired, I’d rather it be from fighting and not from wrestling. That’s the reason why I never wanted to wrestle. But I did so much cardio this camp that it would not have been a problem for me to turn it into a wrestling match, but I just can’t do it, it would not be fun for me.”
Gaethje’s fight with Michael Johnson was declared the ‘Fight Of The Year’ in 2017 and his war with Poirier will be in the running at the end of 2018, so his reluctance to abandon a style that’s gained him so much attention is understandable, but in terms of the longevity of his career and future health there’s little doubt that a more well-rounded and less risky approach would serve him well.