Justin Gaethje‘s coach, Trevor Wittman, still laughs as he recalls how happy his fighter was after the first professional loss of his career.
Gaethje (18-1) suffered a knockout loss to Eddie Alvarez at UFC 218 in December and was transported to a Detroit hospital immediately after. Wittman has long expressed confidence Gaethje would handle a loss well, if it ever happened to come. And he was proved correct that night.
“He was like, ‘Dude, I’m so happy,'” Wittman told ESPN. “I said, ‘Why?’ And he goes, ‘Dude, I got knocked out. I didn’t lose a decision.’
“He’s always about the entertainment value. He’s not going to change. His purpose is to be the most entertaining fighter he can be. And his two fights in 2017, one was the fight of the year and the other was runner-up. He’s meeting his goals.”
That said, Gaethje is very aware of what that loss may have cost him.
Last week, the UFC needed a replacement on short notice, to challenge Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight championship. Gaethje believes he would have received that offer “100 percent” had his undefeated record still been intact.
Gaethje, who fights Dustin Poirier (22-5) at UFC Fight Night on Saturday in Glendale, Arizona, has become so well known for his fighting style, it may seem like his title aspirations are an afterthought. But make no mistake: Gaethje didn’t enjoy the loss and understands that in order to get the fights he wants, he has to win.
“One week ago, I would have got that phone call, and I would have been fighting Khabib,” Gaethje said. “I want to fight for the title, and that loss does not help.
“I got too comfortable in the last 40 seconds of that fight with Eddie. I need to stay diligent and not get too comfortable out there, because that can be a bad thing. I will say, losing a fight like that, I’ll never make that mistake again. I’ll never get too comfortable in there again.”
A win against Poirier would go a long way in getting Gaethje back into title contention, as Poirier as won six of his past seven.
And if Gaethje does get that crack at Nurmagomedov, he likes his chances to not just be entertaining, but win the whole thing.
“A fight is a fight, and styles make matchups,” Gaethje said.”I’ve wrestled my entire life. I believe that I can stuff his takedown and he doesn’t look like he can take leg kicks very well. I’m in this sport because I think I’m the best, so of course I think I can beat him.
“It’s hard to say that when I’m not fighting him right now, though. So, I think he’s the one of the best in the world, and I can’t wait for my chance to fight him.”