July 18, 2017

Justin Gaethje: Why a Fight Against Eddie Alvarez Makes Sense

By Adam Martin

Like all of you, I enjoyed the hell out of Justin Gaethje's UFC debut at the TUF 25 Finale against Michael Johnson, a fight "The Highlight" won via second-round TKO after being hurt badly several times in the first and second rounds. It's the Fight of the Year so far, and after the fight I desperately wanted the UFC to book Gaethje against Tony Ferguson, a fight both fighters wanted and asked for on social media.

But instead of giving Gaethje a fight against Ferguson for the interim lightweight title, the UFC decided to book Gaethje against former champion Eddie Alvarez, but not until the two coach a house full of female flyweights on season 26 of The Ultimate Fighter. The two lightweight contenders are then scheduled to meet in the main event of The TUF 26 Finale in December.

When news emerged last week that the UFC was planning on doing a season of TUF with Gaethje and Alvarez as coaches, it's safe to say I wasn't impressed, and I didn't see much support for it on social media among fans or media either. The main crux of the complaints was that no one wanted Gaethje to sit around on the shelf for six months after just having the Fight of the Year. In addition, most people wanted to see Alvarez rematch Dustin Poirier after their UFC 211 fight ended in a No Contest. Plus there's a very real "TUF Coaches Curse," where the coaches on the reality show rarely end up fighting due to injuries. So I was really hoping the fight wasn't going to be booked.

Then on the weekend, news broke that not only were Gaethje and Alvarez indeed coaching TUF, but the first episode of the show had already been filmed. At first I wasn't too happy, but after thinking about it, Gaethje vs. Alvarez makes a lot of sense.

The main reason is that Gaethje was medically suspended after the fight with Johnson due to an eye injury, one he may very well sit on the shelf for six months for. That timeline matches up perfectly with the prospective fight between Gaethje and Alvarez set for December. It gives Gaethje time to rest his head, too, as he not doubt took some damage in the Johnson fight, and as much as we love the way Gaethje fights, he needs a break right now.

As far as Alvarez goes, yes it's disappointing, but this fight against Gaethje truly has the potential to be Fight of the Year, as both men are known for their iron chins and knockout abilities. You have to feel a bit bad for Poirier, but perhaps now he can fight Kevin Lee. And as much as I wanted to see Gaethje fight Ferguson, it does still make sense for the UFC to try and book Ferguson against Khabib Nurmagomedov for the interim lightweight title, with the winner of Gaethje and Alvarez likely next in line.

The TUF coaches curse still scares me, however, especially since Alvarez is getting older and only fights once or maybe twice a year now. And Gaethje is just so crazy you never know what will happen to him, but it is what it is. Hopefully -- knock on wood -- both guys can stay healthy up until December and this fight indeed happens. Because it really is a great fight between two guys who stylistically should create a violent, exciting, and memorable bout.

With Gaethje and Alvarez now booked, it will be interesting to see what the UFC does with the other top contenders in the lightweight division with champion Conor McGregor trying his hand at boxing against Floyd Mayweather. There's so much talent in the UFC's deepest division, and with so many amazing fights the matchmakers can book, it's a good time to be a fan of the sport. Now, let's just hope this season of TUF goes off without a hitch.

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