UFC interim lightweight champion Justin Gaethje has explained why he tends to avoid wrestling inside the Octagon.
Gaethje is known for his wild fights, his chopping leg kicks and his fight-ending punching power. However, the interim champion got his start in combat sports as an NCAA Division 1 wrestler.
Given his background in wrestling, many fans have found it surprising that we see so little wrestling from him. Apparently, there’s a reason for that.
Speaking on Brendan Schaub’s Below the Belt podcast, Gaethje explained that wrestling simply makes him much more tired than striking does.
“I was always against it [wrestling] because I was gonna get tired,” Gaethje said (transcript via Bloody Elbow). “I walked off a seven minute match — almost every time — almost unable to walk.
“The way I wrestle or the way I do anything is not to preserve energy. I don’t wrestle to preserve energy.”
Justin Gaethje last fought in May, when he stepped in on short notice to replace UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov against Tony Ferguson. The pair battled for the interim lightweight strap.
Ferguson, who was riding an insane, 12-fight win-streak, entered the matchup as a slight favorite, but was pummeled on the feet and ultimately stopped by Gaethje in the fifth round. Having captured the interim title, Gaethje is now expected to take on Nurmagomedov for the undisputed strap in the near future—perhaps at UFC 253 in September.
Gaethje will likely enter his fight with Nurmagomedov as an underdog, but seems to be developing a solid gameplan for dethroning the undisputed champion.
“You gotta self-defense. Without the footwork, you can’t stay out of the fence,” Gaethje said on a recent episode of the Joe Rogan Experience. “If he is taking a shot in the open then he will drive you down to the fence. He’s not gonna attempt takedowns in the open. You watch all of his fights. You’ll maybe see five takedowns that he attempted in the middle of the cage. He’ll start in the middle but he is too pushy towards the cage.”
Gaethje also opened up on his game plan for Nurmagomedov in a recent interview with ESPN.
“I’m so athletic,” he said. “The first thing to go when you get tired is your legs, so my legs, from now until then, I’m gonna be running a lot, jump rope a lot, a lot of step ups, squats.
“If my legs are in shape I don’t get tired,” Gaethje added. “If I don’t get tired I can get back up. If I can get back up, I can hit him like a truck. I only gotta kick him eight times in the calves before he’s compromised. There’s lot of factors. I’m gonna work on being me, stay in shape. It’s all cardio.”