Justin Gaethje’s return to the eight walls of death was nothing short of spectacular, as the Coloradan waged war with Michael Chandler for a fight of the year contention back at UFC 268. Gaethje, a former interim lightweight champion, has had a fruitful and successful career since plying his trade under the banner of the UFC and looks to claim lightweight glory as he prepares to embark on his second lightweight title challenge against the durable Charles Oliveira.
With such a plethora of accolades over his time in the cage, Gaethje is a battle-hardened warrior with a true heart to take on any obstacle in his way. After such an incredible career, Justin Gaethje’s phenomenal stats in the UFC are more than impressive. Let’s take a look at Justin Gaethje’s five most exciting fights in the UFC.
1. Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Johnson: UFC TUF 25 – 07/07/2017
The name Justin Gaethje was slowly piercing the cohort of lightweight fighters in the UFC and the name had begun having some real weight to it. Gaethje’s first real test was that of Michael Johnson, a solid freight train with nine wins from sixteen at the time. Gaethje’s inaugural introduction to the UFC was phenomenal and lived up to the expectation as The World Series of Fighting champion stopped Johnson in the second in a wild two-round war of attrition.
Johnson was coming off the back of a submission loss to the most decorated MMA fighter on the planet, Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 205 back in November 2016. Johnson’s last victory came against the recently crestfallen Dustin Poirier in 2017, where he put the Louisiana-born brawler to the sword in the first round with a harrowing knockout win.
Meanwhile, Justin Gaethje, a fledgling to the UFC promotion, was preparing for his debut battle against the revered Johnson. Gaethje had generated a plethora of hype for his fearsome power and flawless wrestling prowess, so this was a hotly anticipated bout.
The pair came tearing out of their corners throwing dynamite at each other, with Johnson briefly catching Gaethje with a thundering left punch wobbling the Coloradan. Gaethje continued to prove why the UFC had signed him as he chopped away at Johnson’s legs firing a myriad of show-stopping shots.
‘The Highlight’ jumped back into the fray and some brutal strikes followed by a huge knee settling the score with ‘The Menance’. From there is was Gaethje’s fight, as he started to pour on the pressure pegging Johnson back. At the halfway point of the first Johnson ate a left hook from his opponent but the St. Louis fighter kept firing back. Gaethje continued to look better as the fight wore on, landing with power and efficiency.
After weathering the greenhorn’s storm, Johnson replied with a huge right uppercut that shell-shocked Gaethje, it was now Johnson’s turn to hunt down a finish. The loquacious Johnson didn’t get the finish but it was a strong end to a brutal first round.
Another harrowing right hand in the second minute of round two put Gaethje on the back foot once again, but ‘The Highlight’ dug in deep and found his composure. With less than 90 seconds on the clock, Gaethje refused to wilt under Johnson’s pressure, firing a knee and his trademark uppercuts, leaving Johnson a corpse. Referee John McCarthy had seen enough as he raised Gaethje’s hand.
2. Justin Gaethje vs. Dustin Poirier: UFC On Fox 29 14/04/2018
The faithful UFC acolytes had been salivating at the chance to see Dustin Poirier trade leather against newcomer Justin Gaethje in the main event at the UFC Glendale. The duo lived up to the hype delivering a sublime fight that ended with a fourth-round stoppage victory for Poirier.
It was no surprise that the pair came out of their corners throwing with intent and scorn. Gaethje, well versed in leg attacks, focused on disabling Poirier with his stinging attacks to the calves as ‘The Diamond’ head hunted instead. The opening frame’s pace was brutally fast but after an accidental eye poke from Gaethje, there was a momentary break in the action early into round two.
Gaethje’s gas tank looked better than Poirier in the third, as the Coloradan continued to stalk his opponent who had suffered a cut above his eye. With a little over three minutes left, Gaethje let loose a huge right stunning the man from Louisiana, Gaethje retreated into survival mode against the fence. Gaethje looked for the finish but again Poirier bought some time and made it back into the middle of the cage.
The championship rounds had arrived and Poirier looked rejuvenated after a difficult third round. Just under twenty seconds into the fourth frame, ‘The Diamond’ threw a monstrous left stumbling Gaethje to the back of the cage. Poirier smelt blood and wasted no time firing a barrage of shots putting sending Gaethje wobbling around the ring. Herb Dean intervened crowning Poirier the winner.
3. Justin Gaethje vs. James Vick: Fight Night 135 – 25/08/2018
The two fighters had exchanged barbs on the lead up to this bout and Gaethje had made it abundantly clear that Vick was nowhere near his level and he would involuntarily pay for his trash-talking on Saturday night in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The first frame opened with a cautious chess match, with both fighters testing each other with a handful of punches and kicks. The caution was short-lived as a minute into the fight, Gaethje’s right hand found a home on Vick’s face. The Texan crumbled to the canvas in a heap, while Gaethje performed his rehearsed backflip off the walls of the cage.
Gaethje was returning to the cage with two blemishes on his fight card and welcomed in a return to the win column against James Vick. For Vick, he had squandered a main assignment against a top competitor and a fan favorite planting him back into the realms of obscurity.
4. Justin Gaethje vs. Tony Ferguson: UFC 249 – 09/05/2020
Justin Gaethje elevated himself into the upper echelons of the sport after putting on a striking masterclass in an empty VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Florida. The franchise was fighting criticism over staging events in the midst of the pandemic, but Justin Gaethje’s bloodshed battle with Tony Ferguson quickly changed the minds of many.
‘The Highlight’ was riding a three-fight winning streak and had hardly missed a beat, recording three first-round knockouts over James Vick, Edson Barboza and Donald Cerrone. Meanwhile, Tony Ferguson was riding an eyebrow-raising twelve-fight winning streak and was the man at the time believed to dethrone lightweight king Khabib Nurmagomedov because of his unorthodox fighting style and durability.
Both men started cautiously at the opening horn, feeling each other out, in the hope of an easy opening. Gaethje quickly lost patience throwing a few right hands to test the chin of Ferguson. The underdog continued to chop at Ferguson’s legs while unleashing a few whinging punches. ‘El Cucuy’ proved he possessed a cast-iron chin swallowing a few monstrous left hooks. Ferguson turned up the offensive output down the stretch of the second round only to be quashed with Gaethje’s venomous leg kicks.
Ferguson continued to walk into the punishment of Gaethje, absorbing his wrath like a sponge. It wasn’t until Ferguson wound up a thundering uppercut that landed on the chin of Gaethje that you thought he had any chance in the fight. Gaethje was saved by the bell before Ferguson could swarm the Arizona-born brawler with some real pressure.
Gaethje recovered in the interim to persist in the war of attrition against the venerable Ferguson. He continued to throw the kitchen sink at Ferguson’s head, moulding his face like clay with the ongoing onslaught. Still, the Californian native continued to march forward, landing the odd stinging jab while receiving ten-time the damage from Gaethje.
In round four, the stone jaw of Ferguson finally started to crack. For the first time in the fight, ‘El Cucuy’ looked to be mortal. He looked depleted and his legs were folding in on themselves. Gaethje was ready to pounce after seeing the gas tank of Ferguson exhausted. Gaethje refused to pull any punches and fired a huge right hand that found a home on Ferguson’s face. The chopping leg kicks ensued slowly unassembling the unbelievable resilience of the favourite.
The punishment did not stop in the final round as ‘The Highlight’ continued on his quest of round domination. The final piece of the puzzle was a Gaethje jab undoing the durability and heart of Ferguson. The five-round mauling was complete as Ferguson continued to shake his head in disbelief that Herb Dean had stepped in to stop the torrent of pain that Ferguson had been inflicted with. Gaethje’s hand was raised and the man from Colorado had chalked another titanic win to his fight card record.
5. Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler: UFC 268 – 06/11/2021
Dana White opted to crowbar Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler into the curtain-raiser of the evening at UFC 268 opening up the main card with a colossal lightweight bang. The expectations were high for this war but the two warriors delivered fireworks in what could be the fight of the year contender. It was truly magnificent to see these gladiators leave everything in the cage.
The eagerly-awaited match up delivered and then some as they both put on a vintage performance throwing dynamite over three mouth-watering rounds. However, Gaethje was the man who landed on the right side of the judges’ scorecards getting his hand raised. Chandler, who lost his previous bout to the lightweight champion Charles Oliveira UFC 262, was eyeing up a win against fan-favorite Gaethje to return to the win column.
The opening round was a work of art from the paintbrushes of both fighters, as the two flew out of the blocks chucking bombs at each other. Chander attempted to dismantle Gaethje with his favorite weapon of choice, the chopping leg kicks which didn’t seem so enjoyable for Gaethje when receiving them.
Chandler threw with venom firing time and time again at Gaethje’s head, even shrugging the Coloradan’s attacks off. While Gaethje found himself in trouble just before the two-minute mark, ultimately he was laying the foundation for a three-round brawl. Gaethje weathered the storm finishing the round with a steady stream of leg chops, wearing the stocky Chandler down.
The second frame reflected the first, with some truly awe-inspiring action unfolding in the ring for the fans to sink their teeth into. Gaethje finally found a way in and fired a perfectly directed uppercut to immobilise Chandler, the shot rooted ‘Iron’ to the canvas. Somehow, Chandler recovered with a desperate takedown attempt while Gaethje was playing the drums on his face. The previously downed Chandler arose and resumed firing some eye-popping shots in a mad attempt to get a foothold back in the fight.
The two-way brutality ensued deep into the third round with both men fighting tooth and nail. Chandler, clearly down on the judges’ cards, continued to fire shots at Gaethje’s torso while the former-interim champion continued to fire leg kicks which has shown him so much success in the past. Miraculously, both pugilists some how remained on their feet until the final horn with a nod of respect given. It wasn’t Chandler’s night as Gaethje got his hand raised 29-28,29-28,30-27 adding another impressive win onto the fighter’s fight card.