UFC Vancouver, The Morning After: Addressing the Misconceptions around Justin Gaethje
False theories about Justin Gaethje float in the minds of fans and experts alike.
One by one, they have been disproven. The first, of course, was that Gaethje could not hang in the UFC against more experienced competition. When Gaethje pummeled Michael Johnson to a pulp in his debut and treated him like any other poor soul from his World Series of Fighting (WSOF) days, that idea was quickly dispelled.
Other thoughts have dissipated more slowly. The idea that to fight smart or fight technically meant just a single strategy has been parroted long before Gaethje walked to the Octagon, but that idea has affected him more than most. If a fighter did not seek to remain at distance and work from the outside, the odds of him being described as efficient or calculated were slim at best. As such, the idea that Gaethje fought carelessly and without purpose arose and grew stronger.
Even before the adjustments that spurred his resurgence, Gaethje has always been a self-aware athlete. Gaethje understands his strategy deeply, knows the pros and cons of forcing the fight more deeply than most anyone else. Early in his career, Gaethje may have been betting on his own conditioning and toughness to outlast opponents, but even then it was a stacked bet: Gaethje knew firsthand the madness he was about to cause, whereas opponents only had a guess.
In terms of skill, only those who were not paying attention discredited Gaethje. Brawlers do not destroy calves on the break of clinches, shift between stances with purpose, nor expertly use wrestling setups to land power punches — all tactics Gaethje used to great success in WSOF.
Perhaps the most lasting misconception is that Gaethje could never rise to the top without changing his fundamental approach to combat.
The difficulty in busting this myth came when Gaethje lost, twice, to a pair of elite contenders in Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier. Both fights were true wars of attrition that saw momentum ebb and flow wildly, only for Gaethje to wind up the man crumpled on the mat. Watching those defeats play out consecutively in similar fashion, it was not hard to believe that Gaethje was destined to lose future fights to the Lightweight upper echelon in similar fashion.
Gaethje did need a change, but there was nothing wrong with his big-picture concept. The difference is instead in the minutiae. Gaethje does a better job of playing off one threat to land another power shot, as he did with the left hook and right low kick numerous times in last night’s short bout. He is more willing to work more from distance and from inside the clinch rather than boxing quite so much from the pocket. On the whole, he is simply trickier with his power shot setups.