Justin Gaethje looks to add to his history of violence at UFC Philadelphia against Edson Barboza, a man who he feels has more to lose.
Wilmington, DE — One half of the main event at UFC Philadelphia, Justin Gaethje was nothing if not focused heading into the ESPN card this weekend. The man known as ‘The Highlight’ is well-named, as a near-literal human highlight reel. To pull that off, focus is no doubt key. And in saying “focused,” that means unwilling to turn his attention away from the fight, and opponent, at hand: Edson Barboza.
The pair are the sixth and seventh ranked lightweights in the UFC currently. Their records, respectable but misleading. Gaethje (19-2) is 2-2 in the promotion, but has five bonuses in his two fights. And two Fight of the Year awards. Barboza is 1-2 in his last three, but among his opponents were Khabib Nurmagomedov and Kevin Lee.
What Justin Gaethje brings the table, however, is a history of violence. The former WSOF champ was undefeated through his first 18 fights. He has only been to decision twice in his career, the last coming in 2014 against Melvin Guillard. That’s a lot of finishes. His only two loses have come via stoppage as well.
During Fight Week ahead of UFC Philadelphia, Gaethje stated the obvious, what many MMA fans believe. “Me and Edson Barboza is a dream match-up for many, many UFC fans and MMA fans in general. I’m excited to put on a show, just like always.”
That’s standard athlete speak, but from Justin Gaethje, it makes sense. Wrestling since he was four years old, Gaethje is used to big fights, big competitions.
His experience took him right to the World Series of Fighting, “a great platform for me to go out there and showcase my skills, fight really really really tough guys.” Which in turn prepared him to fight the best in the UFC.
But if you’re talking about other fighters, you’d best stick to Edson Barboza. “I don’t even want to talk about anybody else. You guys got me off that line yesterday, I wasn’t very happy about that,” he said at UFC Philadelphia’s media day. The talk the day before had wandered to Al Iaquinta, a would-be opponent Gaethje was matched up with last year before the bout fell through.
“We talked about a lot of things yesterday, but it seems like that was the only headline that came out of it,” ‘The Highlight’ observed. “It makes it seem like I’m looking past Edson Barboza.”
On the subject of Barboza, however, what about pressure? Not every fight can be Fight of the Night or Fight of the Year, right? Asked just that by Cageside Press, Gaethje countered that in his opinion, they can. “I think they can be all Fight of the Night and Fight of the Years. So far they have been, so I don’t see anything changing on this one.” As to why, well, “this is a great opponent for me to have that.” Plenty of truth there, given Barboza’s own fan-friendly style. Plus, “obviously being in the main event, your likelihood of getting the bonus is much greater than being at the beginning of the card. So thankful for being in the main event.”
When it comes to Edson Barboza, Gaethje believes that “he’s Brazil’s best fighter.” In his mind, this is a fight on a global scale. He likes the idea of representing the U.S. “I want to represent the United States of America versus Brazil’s best, versus Russia’s best, versus everybody.”
Barboza has said the game plan against Gaethje is no game plan. For his part, Gaethje seemed to agree with that approach. “That’s exactly how you have to— if you’re at this level, you have to be your best self. I’ve trained for twelve weeks to be my best self in there. I gotta go in there and make no mistakes. That’s what separates one from the other here, is your ability to stay focused and methodical, and make no mistakes.”
There’s also the breakage factor. “I’ve seen a coupe different Edsons fight. He’s quit before.”
“I know that the man is no joke. I know he’s willing to go just as far as I’m willing to go,” Gaethje added. But on the other hand, “I don’t have kids, I don’t have a wife. I’m out here just to give it all. If you’re in a different position, then you have to think about those things in the middle of the chaos.”