Justin Gaethje in October 2018
|Born||Justin Ray Gaethje|
November 14, 1988
Safford, Arizona, United States
|Height||5 ft 11 in (1.80 m)|
|Weight||155 lb (70 kg; 11.1 st)|
|Reach||70 in (178 cm)|
|Fighting out of||Arvada, Colorado, United States|
|Team||Genesis Training Center, Elevation Fight Team|
|Trainer||Trevor Wittman |
|Wrestling||NCAA Division I Wrestling|
|Mixed martial arts record|
|University||University of Northern Colorado|
|Mixed martial arts record from Sherdog|
Justin Ray Gaethje (//; born November 14, 1988) is an American professional mixed martial artist who currently competes in the lightweight division of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). As May 12, 2020, he is #11 in the UFC men's pound-for-pound rankings and is the current interim UFC Lightweight Champion.
Born in Safford, Arizona, Gaethje began wrestling when he was four years old. He was a two-time Arizona state champion as a wrestler at Safford High School, and an NCAA Division I All-American during his time at the University of Northern Colorado. He began his amateur MMA career while in college, turned professional in 2011 and joined the World Series of Fighting (WSOF) in 2013, where he became Lightweight Champion. He defended his WSOF belt five times before vacating it to join the UFC in 2017.
Despite his wrestling background, Gaethje rarely looks for takedowns and is known for his aggressive stand-up fighting style. He has finished 19 of his 22 wins by knockout or technical knockout and has received five Fight of the Night and four Performance of the Night awards in his seven fights in the UFC.
Justin Ray Gaethje was born on November 14, 1988, in Safford, Arizona. His mother, Carolina (née Espinoza), is of Mexican descent, and his father, John Ray Gaethje, is of German descent. His mother was a postmaster while his father was a copper miner, as were both of his grandfathers. His paternal grandfather boxed while serving in the United States Army. Gaethje's father Ray retired as a copper miner in September 2019, after 36 years working at the Morenci mine.
Gaethje has two sisters. He also has a twin brother, Marcus John Gaethje, who worked at the Morenci mine for almost 10 years. When he was 18, Gaethje spent a summer himself at the Morenci mine. He said to Brett Okamoto of ESPN in 2020, "I worked seven days a week, 12 hours every day. I did it for three months straight and took one sick day, because I had to sleep. I did 96 hours one week." Gaethje recalled that as he was about to leave the mine to attend university, two of his co-workers told him, "You'll be right back, you ain't gonna make it in college. You'll be right back here." This motivated Gaethje to make a success of himself.
Gaethje began wrestling at the age of four, and attended Safford High School, where he was a four-time finalist and two-time Arizona State champion as a wrestler. He also played football and baseball in high school.
Gaethje graduated from Safford High School with a 191-9 record. He initially applied to a small college in Arizona as he wanted to stay close to his family, but instead accepted an offer from the NCAA Division I program at the University of Northern Colorado. As a freshman, Gaethje had a 18-9 record, including a third-place finish at the Oregon Wrestling Classic. In his sophomore season, he qualified for the 2009 NCAA Division I 157 lb Championship, where he had a 0-2 record. He finished the season with a 14-4 record, and was named to the Western Wrestling All-Conference First Team.
As a junior, Gaethje went 5-2 at the 2010 NCAA Division I 157 lb Championship to earn 7th place and All-American status. This made him the first Northern Colorado wrestler to attain Division I All-American status since Larry Wagner in 1970. Gaethje dropped down to the 149 lb division for his senior year, but had struggles with weight cutting. He won true-second at the NCAA Western Regional Championships and so qualified for the 2011 NCAA Division I 149 lb Championship, where he posted a 1-2 record to end his senior season with a 17-8 record.
Gaethje began his amateur MMA career during his studies at the University of Northern Colorado. He amassed a 7–0 amateur record before making his professional debut on August 20, 2011, against Kevin Croom. Gaethje won the fight in the first round via KO due to a slam after his opponent attempted a submission.
On the regional circuit in Colorado and Arizona, Gaethje compiled an undefeated 7-0 record, with 6 stoppage wins. One of his early victories was over UFC veteran Drew Fickett. Gaethje won by knockout 12 seconds into the first round.
Gaethje was signed by the World Series of Fighting on December 2, 2012, and made his debut at WSOF 2 against Gesias Cavalcante, finishing the fight in the first round through TKO (doctor stoppage) after opening a cut above Cavalcante's left eye.
On November 15, 2014, Gaethje faced UFC veteran and former training partner Melvin Guillard at WSOF 15. The fight was ruled a non-title contest after Guillard missed weight. Gaethje won the bout via split decision (28–29, 29–28, and 30–27).
At WSOF 29, he defended his belt again by defeating Brian Foster via TKO at 1:43 of the first round. On March 15, 2016, Gaethje was suspended indefinitely by the Colorado State Athletic Commission for "unsportsmanlike conduct" after he performed his signature celebration, a backflip off the top of the cage, in the aftermath of his victory at WSOF 29. The suspension was lifted a day later.
Gaethje was expected to defend the WSOF Lightweight Championship against Ozzy Dugulubgov at WSOF 33 on October 7, 2016. However, the bout was cancelled on the day of the event as Dugulubgov was stricken with illness.
On October 17, 2016, it was announced that Gaethje would defend the WSOF Lightweight Championship against João Zeferino on December 31, 2016, at WSOF 34 in the main event. However, an injury forced Zeferino to withdraw from the bout and he was replaced by Luiz Firmino. Gaethje won the bout by TKO via doctor stoppage due to Firmino's right eye being swollen after round three.
On May 4, 2017, Gaethje announced he had vacated his WSOF title and signed with the Ultimate Fighting Championship. It was announced on May 12 that he would make his debut against Michael Johnson on July 7, at The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption Finale. Gaethje won the back-and-forth fight via TKO in the second round through a combination of punches and knees. The win earned Gaethje the Fight of the Night and Performance of the Night awards. Sherdog named this fight as the best fight of 2017, and round 2 of the fight as the best round of the year.
On July 13, 2017, the UFC announced that Gaethje would coach The Ultimate Fighter 26 along with Eddie Alvarez, with the duo expected to face each other at the conclusion of the season. The bout with Alvarez took place on December 2, 2017, at UFC 218. Gaethje lost the competitive fight by KO in the third round, the first loss of his MMA career. The fight also earned him his second consecutive Fight of the Night bonus award. At the World MMA Awards, it was named the fight of the year. Gaethje said after the loss, "It was the time of my life. Honestly, being in front of that many people, being able to put my skills on the line at the highest level on a pay-per-view, all of those things, it was a dream come true for me. I said it before, I said it many times, that I was going to lose (eventually). If I lost, I hoped that I would get knocked out. All of those things came true."
Gaethje lost a back-and-forth fight via TKO in the fourth round to Dustin Poirier on April 14, 2018, at UFC on Fox 29. The fight earned Gaethje his third consecutive Fight of the Night bonus award. Sherdog named Gaethje vs. Poirier as the best fight of 2018. It was revealed after the fight that Gaethje's leg kicks had caused a partial tear of Poirier's quadriceps femoris muscle. Poirier said, "I didn't know it in the fight, but I knew it the night of and the next morning. He tore my quad. I'm trying to think of another time I've been seriously damaged with kicks. Jim Miller hurt my calf really good, but nothing like that."
Gaethje was scheduled to fight Al Iaquinta on August 25, 2018, at UFC Fight Night 135. However, on June 28, 2018, Iaquinta withdrew from the bout and he was replaced by James Vick. Gaethje rebounded from his two losses in emphatic fashion, winning the fight by knockout in the first round. He was also awarded a Performance of Night award, which meant he had earned five bonus awards in his four fights in UFC.
Gaethje next faced Donald Cerrone on September 14, 2019 in the main event at UFC on ESPN+ 16. He won the fight via TKO in the first round. The win also earned Gaethje his third Performance of the Night bonus award.
On April 6, it was announced that Gaethje would step in on short notice to face Tony Ferguson for the interim UFC Lightweight Championship on April 18, at UFC 249. However, on April 9, UFC president Dana White announced that this event had been postponed, and the bout instead took place for May 9, 2020. Gaethje won the fight via TKO in the fifth round, ending Ferguson's record of 12 wins in a row. He also continued his bonus award streak, earning the Fight of the Night and Performance of the Night awards. This made Gaethje the only fighter in UFC history to win at least one fight night bonus in each of his first seven appearances.
As a two-time Arizona State high school champion and an NCAA Division I All-American, Gaethje has some of the best wrestling credentials in the UFC's lightweight division. Despite his elite wrestling pedigree, he rarely looks for takedowns, instead preferring an entertaining stand-up fighting style. He is well known for his debilitating leg kicks. When asked after his loss to Poirier in 2018 why he did not use his wrestling in the bout, Gaethje said, "I’ve been wrestling my whole life. I should’ve and could’ve took him down a couple of times, especially when I had him rocked just to steal a round or two. For some reason, my mind will not let me do it. I think I sold myself so hard on the fact that this is not wrestling. It gets you tired. If I’m going to get tired, I’d rather it be from fighting and not from wrestling. That’s the reason why I never wanted to wrestle. But I did so much cardio this camp that it would not have been a problem for me to turn it into a wrestling match, but I just can’t do it, it would not be fun for me."
In a 2020 ESPN interview, Gaethje stated he realized after transitioning from wrestling to mixed martial arts that, while winning was still important, entertaining the fans could earn him more money. He said, "There can be guys out there who are 13-0 with 13 decisions, and they're not [even] getting paid $5,000 to fight because nobody is watching. I've gotten opportunities on the biggest stages because of the way I fight. I've never not wanted to win a belt, but I wanted to make money, and the surest way to make money in this sport was to be exciting." According to Gaethje's coach Trevor Wittman, the back-to-back losses against Alvarez and Poirier caused Gaethje to change his mentality. Although he is still a pressure fighter, Wittman said that Gaethje now takes fewer risks and is more selective about when to trade punches. Wittman stated, "I asked him after those two losses, 'Is your purpose still to be the most exciting fighter in the world?' And he said, 'Not really, Coach. I want to be a UFC champion.'"
When asked about his strategy for a potential fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov, Gaethje said he would force Nurmagomedov to strike with him. "Nothing will happen on the cage. We will fight in the center of the octagon. As much as he’s going to want to fight on the edge of the octagon, we’re going to fight in the center. I only wrestle folkstyle. I very rarely wrestle freestyle. In folkstyle, I think the biggest factor is, you’re allowed to expose your back without giving up points, which means you scramble. What he’s done his whole life, these guys could never expose their backs to get out of a takedown because they were giving up points, and that’s the first thing you learn in freestyle is don’t expose your back. They also never have to get up. They just lay there for 15 seconds, then they stand them up automatically. In folkstyle wrestling, you get rewarded for getting up and escaping. You cannot hold me down. I will get up, and I will scramble in a different way than he’s ever known."
Gaethje holds a bachelor's degree in Human Services from the University of Northern Colorado. He has stated his intention to do social work with at-risk youth. Gaethje's surname is of German origin due to his German-American father.
Gaethje underwent a photorefractive keratectomy in 2016 to correct his eyesight. He said, "I used to be blind. I had horrible vision. I was 20/60 in one eye and 20/200 in another eye. And I was far sighted in one eye and nearsighted in another eye." Dan Hardy stated on Inside the Octagon that before the surgery Gaethje's "eyesight was so bad that he actually had to physically be in contact with his opponent to know what he was hitting."
|Professional record breakdown|
|24 matches||22 wins||2 losses|
|Win||22–2||Tony Ferguson||TKO (punches)||UFC 249||May 9, 2020||5||3:39||Jacksonville, Florida, United States||Won the interim UFC Lightweight Championship. Performance of the Night. Fight of the Night.|
|Win||21–2||Donald Cerrone||TKO (punches)||UFC Fight Night: Cowboy vs. Gaethje||September 14, 2019||1||4:18||Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada||Performance of the Night.|
|Win||20–2||Edson Barboza||KO (punch)||UFC on ESPN: Barboza vs. Gaethje||March 30, 2019||1||2:30||Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States||Fight of the Night.|
|Win||19–2||James Vick||KO (punch)||UFC Fight Night: Gaethje vs. Vick||August 25, 2018||1||1:27||Lincoln, Nebraska, United States||Performance of the Night.|
|Loss||18–2||Dustin Poirier||TKO (punches)||UFC on Fox: Poirier vs. Gaethje||April 14, 2018||4||0:33||Glendale, Arizona, United States||Fight of the Night. Gaethje was deducted one point in round 3 for an eye poke.|
|Loss||18–1||Eddie Alvarez||KO (knee)||UFC 218||December 2, 2017||3||3:59||Detroit, Michigan, United States||Fight of the Night.|
|Win||18–0||Michael Johnson||TKO (punches and knees)||The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption Finale||July 7, 2017||2||4:48||Las Vegas, Nevada, United States||Performance of the Night. Fight of the Night.|
|Win||17–0||Luiz Firmino||TKO (doctor stoppage)||WSOF 34||December 31, 2016||3||5:00||New York City, New York, United States||Defended the WSOF Lightweight Championship.|
|Win||16–0||Brian Foster||TKO (leg kicks)||WSOF 29||March 12, 2016||1||1:43||Greeley, Colorado, United States||Defended the WSOF Lightweight Championship.|
|Win||15–0||Luis Palomino||TKO (punches)||WSOF 23||September 18, 2015||2||4:30||Phoenix, Arizona, United States||Defended the WSOF Lightweight Championship.|
|Win||14–0||Luis Palomino||TKO (leg kicks and punches)||WSOF 19||March 28, 2015||3||3:57||Phoenix, Arizona, United States||Defended the WSOF Lightweight Championship.|
|Win||13–0||Melvin Guillard||Decision (split)||WSOF 15||November 15, 2014||3||5:00||Tampa, Florida, United States||Non-title bout; Guillard missed weight (158.8 lbs).|
|Win||12–0||Nick Newell||TKO (punches)||WSOF 11||July 5, 2014||2||3:09||Daytona Beach, Florida, United States||Defended the WSOF Lightweight Championship.|
|Win||11–0||Richard Patishnock||TKO (punches and elbows)||WSOF 8||January 18, 2014||1||1:09||Hollywood, Florida, United States||Won the inaugural WSOF Lightweight Championship.|
|Win||10–0||Dan Lauzon||KO (punches)||WSOF 6||October 28, 2013||2||1:40||Coral Gables, Florida, United States|
|Win||9–0||Brian Cobb||TKO (leg kicks)||WSOF 3||June 14, 2013||3||2:19||Las Vegas, Nevada, United States|
|Win||8–0||Gesias Cavalcante||TKO (doctor stoppage)||WSOF 2||March 23, 2013||1||2:27||Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States|
|Win||7–0||Adrian Valdez||TKO (punches)||Rage in the Cage 164||November 16, 2012||2||0:19||Chandler, Arizona, United States|
|Win||6–0||Drew Fickett||KO (punch)||Rage in the Cage 163||October 20, 2012||1||0:12||Chandler, Arizona, United States||Catchweight (165 lbs) bout.|
|Win||5–0||Sam Young||Submission (rear-naked choke)||Rage in the Cage 162||September 29, 2012||2||1:58||Chandler, Arizona, United States|
|Win||4–0||Marcus Edwards||Decision (unanimous)||ROF 43: Bad Blood||June 2, 2012||3||5:00||Broomfield, Colorado, United States|
|Win||3–0||Donnie Bell||TKO (punches)||ROF 42: Who's Next||December 17, 2011||2||2:57||Broomfield, Colorado, United States|
|Win||2–0||Joe Kelso||TKO (punches)||BTT MMA 2: Genesis||October 1, 2011||1||4:32||Pueblo, Colorado, United States||Lightweight debut.|
|Win||1–0||Kevin Croom||KO (slam)||ROF 41: Bragging Rights||August 20, 2011||1||1:01||Broomfield, Colorado, United States||Catchweight (159 lbs) bout.|
|NCAA Championships Matches|
|2011 NCAA Championships at 149 lbs|
|Loss||6-6||Scott Sakaguchi||6-8 OT||March 17, 2011||2011 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championship|
|2010 NCAA Championships 7th at 157 lbs|
|Win||5-4||Stephen Brown||12-7||March 19, 2010||2010 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championship|
|Win||4-3||Shane Vernon||6-5 TB|
|Loss||3-3||J.P O’ Connor||1-8|
|Win||3-2||Matt Moley||3-2 TB|
|2009 NCAA Championships at 157 lbs|
|Loss||0-2||Mike Kessler||6-11||March 19, 2009||2009 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championship|
|UFC 249||Ferguson vs. Gaethje||9 May 2020||VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena||Jacksonville, Florida, U.S.||700,000|
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