With highlight reel slams and a pedigree that includes three state championships and All-American status as a collegiate wrestler, expectations are high for Colorado lightweight Justin Gaethje.
“It feels real good,” said Gaethje. “It gives me inspiration to work hard and hopefully live up to the potential that they put up there.”
In eight total fights, Gaethje is undefeated, including a 61-second destruction of Kevin Croom at Ring of Fire 41 on Aug. 20.
The transition to successful MMA fighter from wrestler has been something Gaethje has been looking forward to as he finishes up his career at the University of Northern Colorado this year.
“I kind of look at MMA as a different sport; I have new goals that I want to do with that,” he said. “I wrestled for such a long time that I’m ready to move on to different things.
“I’ve been working on my boxing down at the Grudge (Training Center) and am trying to become an all-around fighter and take the fight wherever it goes.”
Working with the likes of UFC veterans Nate Marquardt, Duane “Bang” Ludwig, and Eliot Marshall, Gaethje has had no choice but quickly adapt or be left behind with the level of talent at Grudge.
“They don’t mess around down there,” said Gaethje. “They get after it, and if I’m not at the top of my game, they make me pay for it there.”
One area that’s understandably been the hardest for Gaethje to adapt to in MMA is the stand-up game.
“It’s actually really hard transitioning from wrestling to boxing because the stances are so much different and you have to keep your weight distributed differently,” he said. “It’s just really hard to get used to, and that’s my biggest problem.”
Still, Gaethje’s background allows him to get out of trouble when needed.
“I feel that my wrestling really helps me control a lot of positions,” he said. “Even when I’m not comfortable on my feet, I can get to the clinch and at least get comfortable enough to control the fight there.
“A lot of guys who have never worked the clinch don’t really know what to do with their hips. Being a wrestler, I just like to throw people.”
With an upcoming fight in October, and a return invitation to participate in Ring of Fire’s year end show, Gaethje is on the fast track towards big things, and he doesn’t plan on backing down any time soon.
“I just want to keep fighting and hopefully knocking people out,” he said. “I just love competing and whatever comes, comes. It doesn’t matter who they want me to fight, I’m always ready to fight and I’m you’re never going to get a dull fight from me.”