While he doesn’t exactly love talking to the media at times, Justin Gaethje covered a wide range of topics following one of the biggest wins of his career at UFC Philadelphia.
Philadelphia, PA — There’s a sizzle in the air when Justin Gaethje fights. It probably comes from the fact that you know what’s coming. Everyone does, which means an arena full of rabid fight fans has their spidey-senses tingling, waiting for Gaethje to serve up the highlight. For things to get crazy. For win or lose, a finish to come. That sizzle was back at UFC Philadelphia, for good reason.
It was another first round knockout for Justin Gaethje in the main event of the card at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night. Headlining his first card on ESPN, ‘The Highlight’ certainly lived up to his name, and made a fantastic first impression on the network. In a thrilling if brief fight with Edson Barboza (the lone fighter walking out to the Rocky theme in Philly, a Brazilian no less), he attacked with leg kicks, ate a few in return, and rocked the dangerous, crafty vet.
Barboza survived that. He didn’t survive a lunging right hook at the mid-way mark of the first round. There it was, the highlight. It’s why Gaethje bears the moniker. With the win, he improved to 20-2.
“You guys have no idea how much you fuel me in here,” he told fans after the fight. Gaethje fights to be the best, to make a living, and to be the most entertaining fighter in the history of the sport. The masses, Saturday night in Philly, were most certainly entertained.
Speaking to the media, including Cageside Press, after the bout, Gaethje covered Barboza, and a host of other topics, including his displeasure at seeing Cowboy Cerrone jump past him in the rankings recently (Cerrone doesn’t fight until May, and last competed in January).
On the Barboza front, Gaethje felt his own early leg attack inspired the Brazilian. “Once he felt my kicks — he was trying to kick me in the knee, then I went low with them, and he was like ‘oh sh*t, I’m going to do that too.’ I shouldn’t have given him that idea.” Those kicks were Barboza’s most successful offense. Other than that, Edson landed a shot to the liver, Gaethje said, and virtually nothing to the head.
Gaethje refused to overlook his opponent at any point, however. “I go in there, I question myself at every step. I never think I’m better than my opponent. Every day I wake up thinking they’re better than me, they’re going to beat me. It pushes me to push harder every day.”
Not even after seeing a few of Barboza’s past losses did Gaethje underestimate him. “He’s a killer, when I stepped in there, he was a killer. He was trying to take my life. So I went in there, I dig deep, believe in my preparation, believe in the people I’ve surrounded myself with. That’s all I can do.”
Prior to the fight, Gaethje had stated that he expected to break Barboza down in the third or fourth round. After the fight Saturday, he claimed that it was just something he said for the sake of the media. “I just say those things because you guys make me say these things. I’m from the country, man, I love to fight, and I hate making bullsh*t up. But I got to fill the time with something.”
Asked by Cageside Press if it was inspirational seeing training partner Brandon Girtz pick up a big win at Bellator 219 on Friday, Gaethje answered that it was. “Yeah, yeah it’s always nice to see your teammates win. I represent Genesis Training Center and Elevation Fight Team, that’s who I do most of my sparring with now.” With the latter, Gaethje says he now has “like fifteen guys my size that just push me every single day.”
The what (or mainly who) comes next question is one Gaethje always seems to bristle at. “I don’t care. Doesn’t matter to me. They’re going to pay me a lot of money. That’s what I’m here for,” he said Saturday. Though he did add “I want to be the world champion. I want to fight Khabib. I think I’m one of the biggest threats to his title.” As to why, he’d later point out that his wrestling credentials, and ability to stop the takedown, make him a real challenge for the Russian.
Until then, Gaethje has said he’d take any of the six or seven names ahead of him. However, with McGregor, Khabib, and Ferguson all currently out, and Kevin Lee moving to welterweight, there aren’t many names left. Does he start thinking of the winner of the upcoming Poirier vs. Holloway interim title fight then? Gaethje isn’t sure, but he wants a shot at gold.
“Man, you know I want to fight for the title, so I don’t know, I don’t know what I have to do,” he answered. “So I’m going to put my energy into preparation. And I’m going to be ready to do that to every single person I face across the octagon, who’s trying to take everything that I’ve ever worked for.”
“You guys see how much I love to fight,” he added. “It doesn’t matter. You will regret if you never see me fight live.” On that front, Gaethje in the past has said that he only has five or six wars left in him. Luckily for fans, the Barboza fight, despite earning Fight of the Night, doesn’t count. “Yeah, it wasn’t a war. Still five.”
Gaethje also addressed the subject of Cowboy Cerrone jumping ahead of him in the rankings. Neither had fought recently, and Cerrone’s last win was over a lower-ranked Alex Hernandez in January. “[Cowboy] fights number fifteen, how does that work? It’s bullsh*t.”
As noted, Gaethje wasn’t interested in talking about future opponents Saturday. As far as the time frame for a return, “we’ll see,” Gaethje said. “I don’t call the shots. I show up, I fight, prepared. I need time, I don’t rush things. I don’t jump into fights when I’m not in training camp. That’s not how I do it. I have to prepare my mind, body, and my soul for what I need to do in there. I need at least eight weeks, ten weeks.”
Thus far in his UFC tenure, Gaethje has never topped a PPV event. In fact he has only appeared on a single PPV card, at UFC 218. It seems like, at this point, he’d be a hot sell for fight fans. Asked if maybe it was time to rectify that, Gaethje was non-committal. “I don’t care. I don’t get points for Pay-per-View right now, so it doesn’t’ matter to me. I’m sure they want me to headline something else though.”
No doubt. Again, Gaethje in the cage is an electric presence. Edson Barboza learned that the hard way on Saturday night. As much as he doesn’t want to dig into the question, fans now want to know who’s next for Gaethje. It can’t come soon enough.
Watch the full UFC Philadelphia post-fight press scrum with Justin Gaethje above.