It's safe to say at this point that whomever Justin Gaethje is matched up against, that match up is bound to result in must see action. It may very well be impossible to argue that the man known as "The Highlight" has ever been in a boring bout during his undefeated 18 fight career. This has made him one of, if not the most exciting Mixed Martial Artist in the world today. The former World Series of Fighting Lightweight champion defended his title a full five times before finally making his UFC debut on July 7 when he headlined The Ultimate Finale 25 alongside Michael Johnson and put on what most are calling the front runner for 2017's Fight of the Year. Now that he's on the grandest stage in MMA, it's time to look into the future and what could possibly lay ahead for the Arizona native. Since it is set to happen next as both coach against one another on the next season of The Ultimate Fighter, I excluded Eddie Alvarez from the list. So here are 5 must see match ups for Justin "The Highlight" Gaethje.
Starting off with a match up that has a 0% chance of happening at the moment...especially if Gaethje continues to perform how he has in his undefeated 18-0 career so far. The star potential has exploded now that he's in the UFC and despite how early it is, it looks like he will never be leaving now that he's made it. Thus creating the only possibility for us to get Gaethje vs Michael Chandler being for Chandler to get picked up by the UFC once his Bellator contract runs out. Something that may look less and less likely as time goes on and Bellator gets stronger. The two time Bellator 155 lb champion has been considered one of the very best in the world at Lightweight and one of the very best fighters outside of the UFC ever since his upset victory over the then Lightweight king, Eddie Alvarez in what is one of the greatest MMA fights of all time.
A fight between the two would be complete and utter chaos while it lasted. Both are very similar fighters when it comes to both being great wrestlers with great striking and knockout abilities. Important factors would be: power advantage to Chandler, durability advantage to Gaethje and leg kicks to Gaethje. Chandler has proven to be one of the very best wrestlers with very good boxing and speed which is what has made him so deadly and successful inside the cage. Something that could cause problems for someone as aggressive and pressuring as Gaethje, but the guy just doesn't go away. He's a self admitted kill or be killed type of fighter. Anywhere this fight were to go it would be just amazing. It is so insanely unfortunate how unlikely we are to ever see this match up take place. However, if it does fatefully end up happening...you can guarantee it would be an instant classic!
This one may come as a surprise to some just because MMA math will instantly come to mind seeing as Michael Johnson was able to KO Dustin Poirier in just one round and Gaethje just defeated Johnson. However, you can't forget how good of a fight "The Diamond" recently put up against former UFC and Bellator Lightweight champion, Eddie Alvarez at UFC 211 before the controversial ending that resulted the bout as a no contest. Poirier was getting the better of the former champion for the most part and isn't afraid to exchange hands with anyone in general. Aside from his noteworthy striking skills and willingness to throw down, Poirier has "sneaky" Jiu Jitsu skills accompanied by being able to wrestle if he needs to. In his UFC career, Poirier has collected 6 bonuses (3 Fight of the Night and 3 Performance of the Night.) Always entertaining in one way or another as and is continually improving. The chance of Poirier vs Gaethje could one day come to fruition and there's very little chance that the collision wouldn't deliver.
Owner of arguably the best leg kicks and fastest kicks overall in MMA, Edson Barboza would pose an incredibly unique threat to the former WSOF Lightweight ruler. Justin Gaethje has never fought an opponent that can match him when it come to his leg kicks or even an opponent who throws kicks even close to the way that Barboza does. Seeing how he would deal with them is what makes this match up most intriguing. We've seen Barboza pressured to his downfall before which is unquestionably what Gaethje's attack would be, constant pressure. But any space or opening given to Barboza could spell disaster for Gaethje. Also, consider how Gaethje likes to defend most strikes coming at him, covering up with his head down. This leaves him rather susceptible to potential knee strikes to the head. Something we saw in Barboza's most recent outing with Beneil Dariush, that he's very capable of using to rather great effect. Stylistically, this possible fight raises the most questions. How do you think it would go? Leave a comment below!
You knew it was coming! The current UFC Lightweight champion and former UFC Featherweight champion is currently in the midst of preparing for a cross-sport, boxing/MMA mega fight with all time boxing great, Floyd Mayweather Jr and many wonder if he will ever return to the sport in which he made his name and earned his fame. McGregor has stated recently that he does plan on returning and by the time he does, the self proclaimed most violent Lightweight on the planet, Gaethje could be on the short list of next title challengers for the Irishman.
Presenting a style that the champion has never really faced before, the same could be said for Gaethje when it comes to McGregor. An accurate and powerful counter striker vs a wild pressure brawling wrestler with lethal leg kicks. Some have even declared each man as the other's anti version, which really is not a bad assessment and creates for a very compelling match up. Gaethje has all the tools to hypothetically have his way with Mcgregor, the only issue is the execution of those tools to their fullest. Gaethje loves to go to war when inside the cage and we rarely see him mix in his fantastic NCAA Division 1 All American wrestling skills. Doing so against McGregor would increase his chances of knocking off the champ significantly! But he likes to have fun and put on a show too much so for the likelihood of that to happen. Something as fans you absolutely can not fault him for especially when he's as good as it as he is. Full of confidence himself and already accepting an inevitable defeat(unlike McGregor), this makes Gaethje dangerous in a different kind of way mentally. He refuses to quit and as I stated earlier, goes in to a fight looking to kill or be killed. A title fight between the two down the line could end up being massive depending on how many more times Gaethje were to fight before then and what McGregor does whether it be defending his Lightweight crown or fighting in a different division or even another boxing match. You just never know with him! Time will tell!
Immediately after his debut, many were calling for Tony "El Cucuy" Ferguson to be Gaethje's next opponent. This fight feels like a guarantee to happen at some point already. Ferguson's unorthodox style and mix of every sort of possible attack makes this match up one that you just can't not want to happen. Depending on how things play out between Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov, this match up could end up happening much sooner rather than later. The top 155 pound fighter with the most dangerous Jiu Jitsu in Ferguson presents a very dangerous element to Gaethje. We've never had to see him deal with someone who can snatch up submissions out of nowhere like El Cucuy can. Riding a 9 fight win streak, in Ferguson's last 5 bouts he has earned either a performance of the night or fight of the night bonus and finished 6 of those last 9 opponents (5 submissions, 1 KO). When it comes to exciting fighters, it's hard to find many more that are more exciting and well rounded than Gaethje and Ferguson. Throwing them into the octagon together would only lead to nothing but fireworks.
Who do you think would make for a must see match up with the rising UFC star? Let me know in the comments below!
Follow me on Twitter: @Dre_Kriggs