The under promotion of #JustinGaethje is one of MMA’s great tragedies.
The butt of jokes for years as a result of his then-lack of a Wikipedia page, World Series of Fighting 34 headliner Gaethje is not only the most promising fighter to bloom under the WSOF banner, but also a frontrunner for the title of MMA’s most exciting performer.
A blood-and-guts action fighter, Gaethje possesses a style based on his unbridled power, pathological aggression, and some of the sport’s most crippling low kicks. Opponents find themselves stalked across the decagon floor, their legs battered, often barely capable of standing, as his hands fly in combination.
For the casual fan, he presents the most desirable of stylistic possibilities. His immense killer instinct and unwavering commitment to the knockout assures that no Gaethje fight is ever boring, and his auxiliary tools are strong enough to avoid being consistently taken down or held against the fence.
The underlying philosophies of Gaethje’s approach harken back to the days of PRIDE, and Chuck Liddell’s reign atop the UFC light heavyweight division. While the sport and its technicians have evolved for the better, quickly adopting a consistency of approach and aversion to damage which promote longevity at the elite level, many fans miss the brutality of Liddell and his contemporaries.
Fighters like Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Wanderlei Silva treated mixed martial arts less like a series of competitive bouts and more as a series of fights to the death. There was no consideration for the scorecards, the only objective being to separate an unwilling opponent from their consciousness.
There was something particularly visceral about Rua, Silva, and now Gaethje, their kindred spirit. Onlookers could often forget, even just for a moment, that they were watching a regulated, officiated sport, becoming lost in the spectacle before their eyes.
The beautiful violence these men exacted upon each other transported us to another place and time; a battlefield, in which two combatants fought for their lives, with a single survivor. Context was irrelevant, and unnecessary. The cage or ring faded into the background as leather repeatedly collided with flesh.
While there is no shortage of exciting fighters in modern MMA, few embody this kill-or-be-killed ethos in the way that Gaethje does.
There doesn’t seem to be a single tool in the champion’s game which is intended to do anything but mangle his foe; even his low kicks, generally seen as an attritive tool intended to slow an opponent and open up opportunities for other offense, are thrown with the express purpose of directly finishing the man standing across from him.
Every spectator familiar with Gaethje’s body of work knows to expect pure adrenaline, and he has never failed to deliver. In 2015 alone, he put on two Fight of the Year contenders against Luis Palomino, finishing the Peruvian with strikes on both occasions in remarkably gutsy performances.
Many deride the frequency with which opponents are able to hit Gaethje. Though his defense is understated and the degree to which he absorbs strikes is largely a consequence of the pace at which he operates, there is some truth to this. If this truth phases him, he hardly shows it.
This is a man who simply does not care. A star shines brightest when it explodes in a brilliant supernova, lighting the sky ablaze before vanishing. Gaethje realizes this, and while his aspirations in the sport surely extend beyond a single glorious display, he is unwilling to let a moment inside of the cage go by without shining as brightly as his body will allow.
As mentally and physically durable as any fighter in the sport, this man demands every ounce of resilience from his frame, his indomitable will sometimes the only thing keeping his feet beneath him. Even as fist and shin crash into his skull, nothing short of rendering him completely unconscious will halt his onslaught.
He is, plainly, MMA’s personification of violence, and on December 31st, he will close out the year with a bloodbath. A gift for all who choose to partake in it.
Justin Gaethje would rather burn into ash than settle as dust, and his time with us is limited. Savor every moment of bloodshed that he bestows upon us, lest we one day somberly realize that, like everything else, our time with him was fleeting, and only his legacy remains.
Look on his works, and despair.