July 14, 2017

Justin Gaethje Will Keep This Up For As Long As His Chin Lets Him

By Raphael Garcia

Every so often, fight fans get to witness a battle that leaves them amazed and elated. That occurred last Friday night when Justin Gaethje and Michael Johnson stepped into the cage at The Ultimate Fighter 25 Finale. Of all the fights that happened last weekend, this will likely end up being the most talked about and fondly remembered of them all. And for Gaethje, he would have it no other way.

Those that are familiar with Gaethje’s run in the World Series of Fighting have witnessed this scene before. Gaethje standing in the middle of the cage, exchanging pure violence with his opponent as the crowd cheers them on. Each time, Gaethje has come out on top, putting together an 18-0 professional record that includes 15 stoppages by some form of knockout along the way. Johnson put up a fight, hurting Gaethje multiple times, and nearly pulling out the victory. But he couldn’t sustain the pressure and ended up crumpled over, suffering the first knockout defeat of his career.

The attention now turns to Gaethje. In less than ten minutes of Octagon action he inserted himself into the UFC lightweight title picture. Gaethje succeeded in doing what Marlon Moraes, another former WSOF champion, couldn’t do, as the bantamweight dropped a split decision to Raphael Assuncao last month at UFC 212. But not only did Gaethje make a successful debut, he did so in a way that sparked interest throughout ranks of the largest mixed martial arts promotion in the world. Every fighter on the roster took note of that bout, all the way up to UFC Lightweight Champion Conor McGregor, who simply said, “That was a good contest. Two fighters, fighting.” Minor as it may seem, Gaethje put himself on the champion’s radar with this win.

But as exciting as his style is for the live fans in the arena and the millions watching across the world, one has to wonder how much longer Gaethje can keep it up. Very few things are true in professional sports, but one fact has stood firm: there’s only so much damage a combat sports athlete can take. These battles take their toll on the men and women who step into any enclosure to do battle. And that toll is usually paid very dearly. The examples are numerous -- Fedor Emelianenko, Erick Silva, Eddie Alvarez, and countless others who seem to struggle taking shots after surviving vicious wars. Gaethje fights like he doesn’t care whether the future holds the same fate for him, and right now, the buzz that surrounds him is the fruit of that labor.

The UFC and fans alike should be excited for the future of Justin Gaethje. He emerges from the TUF 25 Finale with a wealth of opportunities. With so many big names available in the lightweight division, it’s hard to see how there could be a “wrong” opponent for him. But whatever is next for the UFC’s hot commodity, everyone should tune in for. Not only to watch the carnage that “The Highlight” brings to bear on his opponents and himself, but also to see how much longer he can keep it up.

The Ultimate Fighter 25 Finale: Johnson vs. Gaethje took place July 7, 2017 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Click the stars to rate how good you think the TUF 25 Finale was.

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