Justin Gaethje: The most exciting fighter in MMA history
So Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler fought last weekend.
Turns out it was pretty good.
No, I joke that was as good a fight as we ever could have hoped for - two completely ready and willing one-time high level wrestlers who said ‘to hell with the best path’ and threw down over three chaotic rounds.
And I know the title of this video is Gaethje-centric, but man, did Michael Chandler do his part - maybe he even did more than Justin to make this fight what it was - albeit in a losing effort.
I’m actually quite happy to see Chandler making something of himself in the UFC - really hitting his stride as a star for the promotion.
He’s been a lightweight elite for about a decade - and during his best moments, was truly thrilling to watch in there.
And when you consider that he went 0 and 3 at one point in his career, going 23 months without a win before turning his career around to once again capture Bellator gold.
Yea, I’ve been a Michael Chandler fan for years.
He looks the part, he’s perhaps the most polished public speaker in the game, he fights like a maniac when he wants to, and I did an interview with him a few years back and he is genuinely one of the nicest people I’ve spoken at length to.
But anyhow, he brought the fire last Saturday night and brought out an interesting compromise in Justin’s recent switch-up to his fighting style.
Though he gladly accepted Chandler’s attempts to make this a war - he didn’t go back to his days of tucking the chin, swinging wildly, and hammering the legs from in close.
There was a bit of that, but this wasn’t the Johnson fight, the Alvarez fight, or his defeat to Poirier.
Justin, for the first time since his revival as a more methodical fighter - was in that cage with the possibility of recklessness dangling in front of his face - and he didn’t fully bite on it.
I mean, ok, he definitely had more than a nibble - but my main takeaway is that Justin Gaethje had a level of composure in the fire, a level of patience that shone through in crucial moments and ultimate got him the win.
All credit to Michael Chandler for making this ugly as can be - but I think looking at the landscape of the lightweight division right now - Gaethje not only proved that he is still very much the most war-ready fighter at 155lbs right now, but he also managed to do that while retaining the lessons he absolutely needed to learn a few fights ago.
Look, losing to Khabib was obviously a set back.
Holes in his game were exposed for the world to see, but in reality, The Eagle is not coming back for a second helping any time soon - and in there with the All American Chandler, he once again proved his ability to be a competent and strong anti-wrestler using his own stellar background.
So when you stop and think about it, Gaethje is not too far removed from the same Gaethje who beat Vick, Cerrone, and Barboza in the first round, the guy who hammered Tony Ferguson in what was a truly brutal display.
It’s understandable that the Khabib loss took a lot of wind out of his sails - but it was a quick, merciful submission - not a career-altering knockout or beatdown.
Would it be crazy to suggest that this version of Gaethje has a better shot at beating both Dustin Poirier and the champ Charles Oliveira than any of the other top-5 contenders right now?
I don’t think that’s a stretch at all.
What we saw on Saturday night was a man nailing the formula - balancing his crazy with his competence in a performance that hit all of the right notes.
So obviously, I think he’s next in line for the title - whether that be against Charles Oliveira in the fresh matchup or my own personal favourite, a rematch against Dustin that would feel pretty well earned at this point.
I think both Beneil Dariush and Islam Makhachev need one more win - so maybe match them up.
But anyway, this whole reminder of Gaethje’s prowess did leave me wanting to see more as soon as possible - but it also brought up an interesting thought.
We almost assume that the man is going to produce fireworks each and every time he steps into the octagon - and through his time in WSOF and during his nine fights in the UFC, he’s done a pretty stunning job at balancing sheer madness with actual high level results in one of the all-time best divisions in the sport’s history.
So when you think about hitting that perfect mix of results and pure fire, I do think there’s an argument to be made that Justin Gaethje is the single most exciting fighter in MMA history.
I don’t know just yet if I’d truly nail myself down to making him my top pick - but when you look at these fights, these knockouts, what he demands of his opponents - I’m becoming more and more convinced that he’s in a league of his own - at least within the moden era.
Because when you’re watching MMA live, it’s not the madness within the cage that matters, it’s the stakes, it’s the consequences for losing - these are the things that truly elevate the craziness you’re experienced, because you’re almost surprised that it’s happening.
His competition for this title, in my opinion, brings together the action fighter, guys like Diego Sanchez, Wanderlei Silva, Robbie Lawler, the theatrics of guys like Anderson Silva, Conor McGregor, Nick Diaz, the weird outliers like Yoel Romero, Genki Sudo, Jiri Prochazka.
Maybe you like the creativity of a Stephen Thompson, a Max Holloway, or a Carlos Condit.
Perhaps you’re just like seeing people get Khabib’d.
But whatever excitement within MMA means for you - I think Justin Gaethje’s ability to tie it all together, to bring brawls in bouts of real consequence, to bring one-punch knockouts that remind you of the sheer danger of the brawls that follow.
The way he chops the base with his odd use of leg-kicks. His ability to recover, to rebound.
The guy has that dog in him, and I’d venture to say that the Chandler fight was his most impressive spectacle to date.
Dana, please, give this man his shot at the belt!