It becomes clear with each passing fight that Justin Gaethje plans on making the most of the time he has in this violent sport.
Despite losing to Dustin Poirier via fourth-round technical knockout – his second consecutive defeat in the Octagon – in the UFC on Fox 29 headliner on Saturday night, Gaethje was in relatively high spirits.
“I didn’t get in this sport to win or lose. It’s an entertainment factor for me,” Gaethje said in a post-fight media scrum. “I will be remembered as one of the most entertaining fighters that ever did it. I’m content with what just happened, as stupid and crazy as that sounds. I felt so comfortable in there. So good. The best I’ve ever felt.”
Just as Gaethje appeared to be imposing his will through a steady diet of chopping leg kicks, Poirier rallied in the fourth frame. He countered a Gaethje low kick with a perfectly timed left-hand counter, and that instantly put “The Highlight” on wobbly legs. From there, Poirier teed off on Gaethje with punches before a right straight-left hook combo put his opponent on the canvas and ended the bout 33 seconds into the period.
“It was just like I thought it would be,” Gaethje said. “A fistfight. That’s what I’ve been preparing for for 12 weeks. This is an unforgiving sport, and I don’t recommend it to my enemy. But this is what I was born and bred to do.”
Gaethje’s record, which was perfect through 18 professional bouts, has not survived the transition to the UFC. But his reputation for producing must-see action fights has only been enhanced – even in back-to-back losses against Poirier and Eddie Alvarez.
Gaethje’s style results in him taking a lot of punishment in his bouts, and that trend dates back to his World Series of Fighting tenure. Maintaining a flawless record was never the goal for the 29-year-old Arizona native, however.
“I don’t fight to win or lose, as stupid and crazy as that sounds,” he reiterated. “I go in there to entertain people. This is the entertainment business. I fight for money. What I do helps me get paid a lot of money.”
That said, Gaethje realizes he doesn’t have limitless earnings potential as a mixed martial artist. He is well aware that, given his approach, he has a relatively limited shelf life.
“I’ve got about five fights,” Gaethje said. “I want the biggest fights possible. Coming off two losses that’s hard to say, but you want to see me fight. If you don’t see me fight live, you will regret it when I’m done. It’s not going to be very long. I’ve got about five left. I want to golf when I’m 60. I have a human services degree, I want to do social work. And hopefully I can buy a lot of houses and make money that way.”
While Gaethje’s basic approach to each bout won’t change drastically, he does try to evolve from fight to fight.
“I think I changed from the last fight to this fight. You always try to learn,” he said. “I’m not an idiot. I’m not gonna go home and say, ‘Forget that,’ and just do it again. I’m gonna study what I did right and what I did wrong and I’ll make adjustments.”