During his meteoric rise through the lightweight ranks, Justin Gaethje built a reputation as one of the sports most exciting fighters.
“The Highlight” won his first 18 fights, a remarkable 15 of them by knockout or technical knockout. Gaethje made an unforgettable Ultimate Fighting Championship debut with a TKO of Michael Johnso0n at “The Ultimate Fighter 25” Finale in July 2017 but has since lost back-to-back bouts against Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier. Gaethje will look to end his two-fight skid at the expense of James Vick in the UFC Fight Night 135 headliner on Saturday at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska.
As Gaethje approaches his clash with Vick, here are five things you might not know about him.
1. He was a successful collegiate wrestler.
While Gaethje is best known for his knockout abilities in MMA, he started out as a wrestler. He took up the sport at age 4 and went on to become a two-time state champion at Safford High School in Safford, Arizona. Gaethje later competed at the University of Northern Colorado, where he placed seventh nationally as a 157-pound junior and earned All-America honors. It was during this time that he worked out with a number of mixed martial artists, most notably former UFC welterweight and middleweight champion Georges St. Pierre.
2. A strong work ethic is in his genes.
Gaethje’s tenacious, never-back-down attitude can be traced back to his blue-collar, Arizona upbringing. His father was a copper miner, as were both of his grandfathers. Gaethje has a twin brother, Marcus John, who is also a miner. The Gaethjes are a close-knit family. His parents recently celebrated 33 years of marriage. Gaethje’s Twitter profile picture is a shot of him posing beside his proud mother, the World Series of Fighting lightweight strap draped over one of her shoulders.
3. He has a bachelor’s degree in human services.
During his time at the University of Northern Colorado, Gaethje was not solely focused on wrestling and his future MMA career. He also managed to complete his bachelor’s degree in human services. Gaethje has previously stated that he intends to do social work with at-risk youth.
4. He was once suspended for performing a celebratory backflip.
Gaethje on March 12, 2016 retained the World Series of Fighting lightweight title with a first-round leg kick TKO of Brian Foster at WSOF 29 inside the Bank of Colorado Arena in Greeley, Colorado. Following the stoppage, a jubilant Gaethje performed a celebratory backflip off the top of the cage. The stunt was not to the liking of the Colorado State Boxing Commission, which, in a surprising turn, suspended Gaethje indefinitely for “unsportsmanlike conduct.” The suspension was lifted the next day.
5. He had an impressive run as an amateur mixed martial artist.
Gaethje exploded onto the professional MMA scene with a slam knockout of Kevin Croom in 2011. However, “The Highlight” had prepared for his debut by compiling a pristine 7-0 record as an amateur. Six of those wins resulted in finishes, three of them inside the first round. Gaethje showed a penchant for the armbar in those early days, utilizing the maneuver in two of his first four wins.