In just over a week, #JustinGaethje will make his UFC debut when he faces Michael Johnson in the main event of the TUF 25 Finale.
It's not often a UFC debut is as highly anticipated as this one, but Gaethje is no average fighter. The former World Series of Fighting lightweight champion is a perfect 17-0 as a professional and he has a highlight reel that should carry it's own public service warning for extreme violence.
Speaking ahead of his debut this week to the UFC Unfiltered Podcast, Gaethje was asked how he was feeling ahead of his big debut and why it took him so long to make it to the UFC.
"Man, I’m so excited to put my skills on the platform I got now,” Gaethje said. “I’ve been working towards this for a long time now so I’m excited for this opportunity that the UFC has given me. I feel like I’m getting the respect that I deserve and I’ve earned. It’s fantastic. I was getting paid huge by World Series and they were paying me great money. I was under a contract so I couldn’t talk to any other company until I was a free agent and by then I was 17-0.”
When asked what he expected to be different in the UFC, Gaethje said the only different would be that can now legitimately claim to be one of the best in the world at 155-pounds.
"I’m pumped man,” Gaethje said. “As a competitor you dream about it. I want all the glory in the world and you can’t have that without fighting the best in the world. I can’t keep saying I’m the best in the world without putting myself in those situations to fight the best in the world. I sounded like a coward when I was saying that. Now I can say I’m the best in the world and I know it’s just a fight—it doesn’t matter. Once you get in there, it’s just you, your opponent and a referee. Your skillsets are a little different, but it’s not much different to fighting in World Series of Fighting."
Fighters are often ecstatic when they make it to the UFC, but the 'Octagon Jitters' are a real thing and many suffer from the pressures of making their UFC debut. Gaethje doesn't appear to be feeling the pressure of the situation and he claims that's down to him competing at the highest level since a very early age.
“F*ck me I’m so excited for this,” Gaethje said. “I’ve been working since I was four years old for this. “Nobody has worked longer or harder than me. Since I was four years old I never took a day of wrestling and I’m so ready for this. I wrestled at the NCAA National Tournament three times, I placed seventh one time and there 20,000 people in that at any one time so I’ve been on to the mats to take on wild ones and guys trying to beat me since I was four years old.”
Johnson has claimed plenty of big scalps over the past few years and he's beaten some of the best in the world in the lightweight division. It would be unthinkable for most fighters to fight the world number five on their UFC debut, but Gaethje is relishing the opportunity.
“They’re throwing me to the wolves and I love it,” Gaethje said. “They aren’t going to bring me in and pay me what they’re paying me and give me an easy fight. They’re throwing me to wolves.”
Gaethje believes he's got several advantages over Johnson and he said that he's seen Johnson demonstrate he doesn't have the same hunger as him in previous fights.
“Like I said about Conor [McGregor], once a quitter, always a quitter,” Gaethje said. “He’s got eleven losses on his record and like six or seven of them are decisions and he got outworked. That will never be the case in one of my fights. When I Iose, I will get knocked out. It won’t be because I got outworked or anything like that. I’m going to be strong and see how he likes, hopefully I’m going to get him in the air and then put his face and head to the mat a couple of times.”
This fight has violence written all over it.