The fight world rejoiced when UFC 218 added the fight between Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje, but which dynamic lightweight will reign supreme?
There is a love-hate relationship with the idea that being a star is not just about if you win, but also how you win. Plenty of fighters have dominated quietly under the radar and never been the talk of the town. Others have had little success but are immortalized for one signature battle they waged years ago. Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje are a testament to the glory that comes with being exciting and they are set to meet at UFC 218 in what many are calling a potential fight of the year.
For years while Eddie Alvarez was ruling the roost in Bellator, his popularity grew not only because of his dominance but his willingness to engage in exciting contests in every outing. His fight of the year candidate against Michael Chandler in 2011 lives on as arguably the greatest non-UFC bout to ever take place. Depending on who you talk to, the rematch two years later was even better than the first. On just those performances alone, it was no surprise that Alvarez would go on to have a highly anticipated UFC debut. While his start in the Octagon didn’t go as expected, he followed it up with several victories including a shocking upset over Rafael dos Anjos for the UFC lightweight championship.
Justin Gaethje built his reputation on imposing his will on opponents in the World Series of Fighting. While his performances flew well under the radar in the WSOF, his consistency didn’t. His undefeated 18-0 record has a glaring number of finishes and he proved that his skills could translate against more recognized opposition when he stopped Michael Johnson in a fight of the year candidate.
Most recently, both men have been featured as opposing coaches on The Ultimate Fighter where they helped mentor a cast of female flyweight competitors who are vying for the inaugural 125-pound championship in the UFC. Eddie Alvarez’s time on the show was punctuated by discord between himself and his third pick Lauren Murphy. While the majority of the cast admitted his approach was more hands-off, his nearly weekly spat with Murphy was a consistent storyline during the season. By contrast, Justin Gaethje came off as more personable as he was shown frequently bonding with his team and making concerted efforts to familiarize himself with them on a personal level.
Despite spending several weeks around each other, there was very little friction between the two. If anything, Alvarez and Gaethje appeared to become friendlier as the show went on. While there is great mutual respect between the two, the expectation is that it will all go out the window come Saturday. Both men built their reputation outside the UFC, but one of them will put themselves in the upper-echelon of the lightweight division with a victory at UFC 218.
Currently, the 155 division is awaiting the unification of the lightweight titles between Conor McGregor and Tony Ferguson. How the division will play out will depend on the schedule. At this point, it is assumed McGregor will not return until the Spring, which means the winner of McGregor and Ferguson would not compete again until the Fourth of July card at the earliest. Currently, the top candidate for a shot at the belt would be the winner of Khabib Nurmagomedov and Edson Barboza on New Year’s Eve.
This opens the door for several possibilities: assuming there is no immediate rematch between McGregor and Ferguson, then they face the Nurmagomedov/Barboza winner later in the year. In the case that there is no quick turnaround for the champion, the Nurmagomedov/Barboza winner could take another fight while they wait. The most obvious opponent to stay at the top of the division would be the winner of Alvarez/Gaethje. If neither of the aforementioned routes come to pass, it is still expected that the winner at UFC 218 could still be in a top contender match-up against Dustin Poirier in 2018.
Stylistically, both men come forward and push the action at an incredible pace. Both are well-conditioned and are known for their durability. On the feet, Justin Gaethje should look to come forward and force Eddie Alvarez to fight with his back to the fence. The former UFC champion does his best when he is able to throw in the center of the Octagon or push his opponent to the cage. Gaethje has the perfect style to negate that offense and should look to follow the same strategy he did against Michael Johnson.
For Alvarez, his best option would be to use his wrestling. As enticing as it would be to stand and trade with Gaethje, he would be best served getting him in the clinch and against the fence. Doing so will slow down “The Highlight” and he can use the position to get the fight to the ground where his stand-up is a non-factor. In a three round fight, the ability to burn time off the clock will be crucial for Alvarez if he is ahead as it would not allow for Gaetheje to score points of his own.
There are plenty of match-ups that have fans excited for UFC 218, but Eddie Alvarez vs. Justin Gaethje easily encapsulates what makes the card so exciting for fans. There are plenty of expected bangers, such as Max Holloway vs. Jose Aldo and Alistair Overeem vs. Francis Ngannou, but it’s the lightweight clash that is expected to be the one to watch. With a chance to be on the short list for a title shot on the line, it’s obvious why this lightweight clash has many anticipating a fight of the year.