Justin Gaethje has the kind of fighting style that can take years off an opponent’s career.
He doesn’t just beat them. He terrorizes them with incessant, hard-hitting offense. Ruthless aggression.
“I am who I am and I fight how I fight every single [fight],” Gaethje tells DAZN News over a recent phone call. “I’ve had 33 fights, including my amateur fights, and not once was it not like that. That is who I am, that’s how I fight.
“That’s the fight that they’re going to have to fight and if they could beat me there, then I got to give them credit,” he tacks on. “Three guys have beat me but one guy made sure I couldn’t fight my fight in the history of my career and I’ll make sure that never happens again.”
By the latter, he’s referring to the retired and undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov who stifled his aggression into a second-round technical submission (triangle choke) back in October 2020. Gaethje (23-3) wants to do everything in his power to avoid such a result against lightweight champion Charles Oliveira in the main event of UFC 274 at the Footprint Center in Phoenix on Saturday night.
Entering the bout, Gaethje is well aware of Oliveira’s technical prowess, as the Brazilian has garnered 20 of his 32 victories by submission including the third-round submission he produced against Dustin Poirier via rear-naked choke in December.
That being said, Gaethje isn’t sleeping on Oliveira’s power either. He watched “Do Bronx” record knockouts before, namely the second-round TKO (punches) he used against Michael Chandler to become the lightweight champ last May.
“I’m fighting the best in the world. The best in the world are dangerous everywhere,” says Gaethje, accounting for all facets of Oliveira’s game. “I absolutely have to respect (Oliveira’s power), but not respect it and be scared of it. I’m not scared of it. I’m not afraid of it. I’m never scared to get knocked out.”
Gaethje can live with being knocked out fighting his fight. But he wouldn’t be able to stomach being submitted.
“I’d much rather him knock me out than choke me out,” Gaethje adds, “so that’s going to be his only option.”
Oliveira’s fights against Poirier and Chandler have taught Gaethje plenty, considering the two have been common opponents of both. In fact, Gaethje’s third-round unanimous decision over Chandler in November was an instant thriller for its nonstop action that “The Highlight” got the better of.
“Poirier and Chandler — they touched him plenty of times,” Gaethje pinpoints. “I think Chandler kind of got a bit too overconfident after that first round. He forgot the danger that’s always there. Maybe he got a little bit relaxed and that’s why I think that shot was so effective.”
Oliveira caught Chandler slipping with a crunching left hook. Another left hook seconds later spelled the beginning of the end for the American.
That’s where Gaethje’s heavy-handed, thumping and the precision he deploys it with can make a difference.
“My accuracy is the most underrated thing that I possess,” Gaethje says without flinching. “I land my shots when I choose my shots and they’re always effective. I’m absolutely going to touch him, I’m going to cause damage and he’s going to have to dig deep.”
Gaethje believes that he’s going to have to do the same. Oliveira (32-8) is riding a 10-fight win streak as confident as any champion in the mixed martial arts landscape.
“Dude, this guy is really, really good,” Gaethje says. “The confidence that he has right now is one of the most dangerous things that you could face. He’s full confidence.”
A confidence and growing will that Gaethje plans to shatter, especially considering he’ll be fighting in his home state of Arizona. The 33-year-old has tasted being a champion before but that was interim status after defeating Tony Ferguson by fifth-round TKO (punches) in May 2020. Defeating Oliveira to become lightweight champion would be different.
“It would mean everything to me,” Gaethje concedes. “I can’t say that this would be wasted if I never get a championship. The fact of the matter is I will go down in history as a champion in the UFC no matter what happens on Saturday night.”
Then again, UFC 274 is the perfect stage.
“For me to feel like a champion, I have to win this fight,” he admits. “Interim champion, although on paper it says the same, inside it does not feel the same.”