Having gone 0-2 in his last two appearances, Justin Gaethje needs to get back on track against James Vick in the UFC Fight Night 135 main event on Saturday at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska. Prior to Gaethje’s losses to Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, the former World Series of Fighting champion was the proud owner of an 18-0 record, with 15 of those wins -- 83 percent -- coming by knockout or technical knockout.
As he approaches his lightweight battle with Vick, here are five moments that have come to define Gaethje’s career.
1. KO King
Gaethje was a 5-0 uber-prospect when he faced experienced veteran Drew Fickett at Rage in the Cage 163 in October 2012. It was widely assumed that this would be a stiff test for the still-raw Gaethje, but it proved to be anything but difficult. A mere 12 seconds into the contest, Gaethje emphatically ended Fickett’s night with a right hook to the head. The MMA world was starting to take notice of this heavy-handed up and comer.
2. Announcing His Arrival
Gaethje faced Gesias Cavalcante in his organizational debut at World Series of Fighting 2 on March 23, 2013. From the start, he threw power punches and heavy knees before connecting with a vicious right elbow that opened a nasty gash above Cavalcante’s left eye. The cageside physician deemed the wound serious enough to call off proceedings 2:27 into Round 1. With his victory over the two-time K-1 Hero’s grand prix winner, Gaethje cemented himself as one of the sports top young prospects.
3. One for the Highlight Reel
The Los Angeles Times named Gaethje’s WSOF 19 encounter with Luis Palomino the best fight of 2015. As has been his custom, Gaethje eschewed the ground in favor of a brawl, and the tough and experienced Peruvian was all too happy to oblige. The crowd was on its feet throughout the thrilling confrontation. Gaethje stopped Palomino with leg kicks and punches in the third round to retain his World Series of Fighting lightweight crown. It was the second of his five successful title defenses with the promotion.
4. Fight of the Year
Gaethje made his eagerly awaited Ultimate Fighting Championship debut at “The Ultimate Fighter 25” Finale on July 7, 2017. His opponent was Michael Johnson. It proved to be an exciting, fast-paced, back-and-forth affair. In customary, fan-friendly fashion, Gaethje unleashed heavyweight leather throughout, his punches interspersed with brutal low kicks. Johnson dished out plenty of punishment of his own, but with 12 seconds remaining in the second round, Gaethje put away “The Ultimate Fighter 12” finalist with knees from the clinch. It was Sherdog’s “Fight of the Year” for 2017.
5. First Taste of Adversity
In Gaethje’s second appearance inside the Octagon, the undefeated lightweight carried an 18-0 record into his showdown with Eddie Alvarez at UFC 218 on Dec. 2. Alvarez owned one of the best resumes in the sport, with title reigns in both the UFC and Bellator MMA. Gaethje once again lived up to his “Highlight” moniker in an unforgettable war, but this time, it did not go his way. Alvarez utilized body punches, and they began to take their toll as the fight wore on. Gaethje responded with heavy punches and low kicks that tenderized his counterpart’s left thigh. However, a visibly fatigued Gaethje was vanquished by a knee strike to the chin 3:59 into Round 3 and suffered the first defeat of his career. Even so, he earned many plaudits, including his second straight “Fight of the Night” bonus.