Justin Gaethje is looking to make further waves in UFC, MMA’s premier promotion.
He was in line for a fight with fellow American cage fighter Tony Ferguson to crown an interim lightweight champion with title holder Khabib Nurmagomedov holed up in Russia from where he cannot travel.
The much-anticipated bout between Ferguson and Khabib seems doomed, and has now been canceled for a fifth time.
But plans now are for Gaethje (21-2) to face Ferguson (25-3) on May 9, supposedly in Jacksonville, Florida.
So, how did Gaethje get to become a potential UFC breakout star? Born in Safford, Arizona to a a father of Germanic origin, and a mother with Mexican roots, Gaethje has an amateur wrestling background. While studying at the University of Northern Colorado, he was an NCCA Division 1 All-American.
He also fought in and won seven amateur MMA fights before turning pro in 2011. Gaethje signed with the World Series of Fighting in 2013 and became their lightweight champion in 2015.
By the time he had amassed a pro record of 17-0, he was attracting attention from UFC. Gaethje joined Dana White’s organization and made a winning debut at the Redemption Finale with an impressive stoppage of Michael Johnson in Las Vegas in July 2017.
Even combat athletes on a serious upward curve like Gaethje have encountered bumps in the road. He lost his next two UFC fights – first getting knocked out by Eddie Alvarez at UFC 218 on the undercard of Max Holloway v Jose Aldo 2.
Gaethje was then stopped by another more experienced cage fighter in Dustin Poirier, but resumed winning ways inside the octagon with victory in his last three bouts. Stoppages of James Vick, Edson Barboza, and Donald Cerrone on minor UFC events have seen him climb to fourth in the rankings for the division.
That puts Gaethje just behind former two-weight champion and MMA star Conor McGregor in this particular category. In fact, all of the names above him in the pecking order are established stars in the sport.
Although denied his first opportunity to headline a major pay-per-view, Justin Gaethje odds suggest he is not a fighter who should be taken lightly by any of the lightweight elite if they do clash somewhere down the line. Ferguson was the hot betting favorite to become interim lightweight champ due to his greater experience.
However, there is a form line that gives Gaethje hope of upsetting in the event, when they do step inside the octagon and face off against one another. While Ferguson has won his last 12 fights, last losing to fellow American Michael Johnson back in 2012.
Justin is five years younger than the 36 year old Ferguson and earned a lot of plaudits in UFC – receiving either Fight of the Night or Performance of the Night in every one of his seven bouts since joining the promotion.
Gaethje…and Khabib, Dustin Poirier, and McGregor.
This is going to be a fluid and compelling division, as the lightweights all jockey for position in what are competitive rankings, but if Gaethje continues on his momentum run, the title may well one day be his.