Scouting Report: Justin Gaethje
Justin GaethjeBorn: Nov. 14, 1988 (Age: 34) in Safford, Ariz.
Record: 23-4 (6-4 UFC)
Association: Genesis Training Center
Stage of Career: Post-Prime
Summary: Despite an excellent wrestling background, Gaethje became one of the best strikers in the sport. Gifted with fast hands, he has fantastic, textbook technique and tremendous power on his punches, prioritizing his right hook, left hook and overhand right. All are fantastic shots that can lead to knockouts; in the right hook’s case, it carries true one-punch knockout power. Of course, one should not neglect his legendary leg kicks, which are incredibly fast and powerful, badly hurting and compromising opponents with just a few connections. Defensively, Gaethje has improved a great deal since earlier losses to Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, having made himself much harder to hit. When he does get hit, he has an iron chin that is capable of weathering many huge shots, though perhaps not quite to the degree his reputation would suggest. His recuperative powers are even more remarkable, as the speed with which he recovers from massive head trauma is unmatched. He becomes less dangerous after the first round, but he has excellent cardio and can throw hard, fast blows for all five rounds, if necessary. With regards to grappling, Gaethje seeks to take it out of the equation. He is mostly successful in this pursuit thanks to excellent takedown defense and an outstanding ability to explode back to his feet. However, some of the sport’s greatest grapplers, like Khabib Nurmagomedov and Charles Oliveira, have managed to exploit his lack of a ground game to get quick submissions. It remains unclear whether lesser grapplers could exploit this area of weakness.
STRIKING• Stance: Orthodox.
• Hand Speed: Far quicker than average.
• Jab: Fast, technical and hard, though he uses it more to gain distance than to set up further strikes.
• Cross: Not his best punch. Due in part to his shorter reach, he prioritizes hooks, overhands, uppercuts and other big power punches.
• Left Hook: Powerful and ridiculously technical, with a tremendously tight arc and great body rotation. He has knocked out opponents with it before.
• Right Hook: Just as technical as his left and perhaps even slightly more powerful, with legitimate one-punch knockout power, as he proved against Edson Barboza.
• Overhand Right: Every bit as dangerous as his left and right hook.
• Uppercuts: Powerful and damaging from the right side.
• Solitary Striker or Volume Puncher: Throws punches in bunches, never just a single blow by itself.
• Favorite Combination(s): Loves the three-two, which is quite effective and led to the knockout sequence against James Vick.
• Leg Kicks: Fast and powerful, and while he throws them naked, he has started using angles and keeping a hand up as of the Barboza fight. They exert constant pressure on the opponent.
• Body Kicks: Rarely throws them.
• Head Kicks: Rarely throws them.
• Chains Kicks to Punches: Rarely, which is unfortunate, as doing so would make it more difficult to counter him. On the flipside, he likely would not be able to load up so much on his leg kicks.
Gaethje is one of the greatest offensive strikers in MMA history. All of his punches are excellent, including an underrated jab. He uses a brawling style filled with constant power punches and brutal kicks, throwing multiple shots in a row. Traditionally, much of it was set up by his superb leg kicks, which are tremendously fast and powerful, damaging opponents badly in just a few connections. This can be a double-edged sword, as he throws them naked and can be countered, though he has improved at this by using angles more and keeping his hands up better. In terms of boxing, he has fast hands, and his left hook, right hook and overhand right rank among the best in the sport, with peerless technique, considerable speed and tremendous power. His right hook offers true one-punch finishing power—a genuinely remarkable quality for any fighter, let alone a lightweight. He has improved defensively, but he can still be hit by truly effective strikers, as his fight with Michael Chandler showed.
CLINCH• Physical Strength: He does not cut much weight, but he can hold his own and then some against much larger lightweights. He even looked solid against Nurmagomedov for a time.
• Technique: Excellent, as he is able to frame and spin off the cage to get back to distance.
• Knees: Fires powerful blows to the body and head, especially from a great Thai plum. Very savvy at recognizing when these shots will be effective.
• Elbows: Rarely throws them at close range.
• Defense Against Knees/Elbows: Stout, as he does not stay in tight spaces for long. Plus, his own knees are devastating weapons.
Gaethje typically does not want to stay in the clinch for long and would rather separate and strike at range. Thanks to his wrestling pedigree and a strong combination of technique and strength, he is normally able to achieve this with ease. However, if he does stay there, he possesses some of the best knees in the entire sport. They are tremendously powerful and aimed at head and body, and they are facilitated by a great Thai plum.
GRAPPLING• Wrestling from a Shot: Difficult to say, as he he has practically never used his wrestling in the UFC.
• Wrestling in the Clinch: See above.
• Takedown Defense: Generally good, especially when he angles off and sprawls. However, he can be taken down at times, though usually when hurt. It was not easy for Nurmagomedov to take him down, while Alvarez and Poirier got him down only briefly.
• Ability to Return to Feet: Stellar. He popped back up almost instantly against Alvarez and Poirier.
• Submissions: Almost non-existent, especially at his current level.
• Defense/Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from the Bottom: He has some definite holes in this area, as Nurmagomedov and Oliveira demonstrated. However, it is hard to use two of the greatest grapplers of all-time as measuring sticks.
• Top Control: Would rather fight on the feet, even waving opponents back up when they are on their back and he could settle on top.
• Ground-and-Pound: Only inflicts it when finishing off an opponent who was already badly hurt.
Gaethje’s approach to grappling is a decidedly simple one: He seeks to nullify it entirely. Against the vast majority of opponents, that is easy to do. Gaethje’s takedown defense is good and made even harder to exploit thanks to his quick movement and outstanding footwork. In the rare times when he is taken down, he can explode back up to his feet almost instantly. However, when down, he has some holes in his Brazilian jiu-jitsu, as Nurmagomedov and Oliveira managed to garner quick submissions against him. The degree to which this is indicative of his ground game is hard to say, considering how superlative both of those men are as grapplers. At the very least, this is an area few fighters can exploit against Gaethje.
INTANGIBLES• Athleticism/General Physical Strength: Uses quick, dynamic movements, and despite cutting little weight to make lightweight, he has proven to be quite powerful and able to hold his own against naturally bigger opponents.
• Cardio: Moderately less dangerous after Round 1 but not by much, and he continues throwing powerful, effective strikes for all five rounds if a fight gets that far.
• Chin: Able to withstand some hellacious punishment but perhaps less great than generally believed. It is certainly possible to hurt him.
• Recuperative Powers: Utterly amazing how quickly he recovers from heavy head trauma.
• Intelligence: In his more recent appearances, he has fought in a more disciplined manner, prioritizing defense and staying out of an opponent’s wheelhouse. It was evident against Chandler and Tony Ferguson. However, he can be outsmarted by an opponent implementing a brilliant gameplan, as occurred against Nurmagomedov and, to some extent, Oliveira.
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