World Series of Fighting champion Justin
Gaethje will have the chance to even his
Ultimate Fighting Championship record when he takes on James Vick in
UFC Fight Night 135 main event this Saturday at Pinnacle Bank
Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska. Both men are known for their finishing
skills, so the chances of their confrontation going the distance
This edition of The Film Room shines some light upon Gaethje’s
techniques and strategies.
Many fighters thrive under pressure, but no one is any more
comfortable amid the chaos than Gaethje. Even when he competed
outside the UFC as the only WSOF lightweight champion in history,
he was hailed as one of the sport’s most exciting athletes. Some
thought Gaethje’s reckless style would hold him back at the highest
level, but an incredible comeback victory over Michael
Johnson in his UFC debut showed his gifts extended beyond
Although known for his aggression and his ability to eat strikes
and keep coming forward, Gaethje’s main source of success comes
from one of the most basic techniques in all of combat sports. Leg
kicks generally are not seen as fight-ending strikes, but Gaethje
is one of the few MMA fighters to have multiple technical knockout
wins via leg kicks. Not only can he win a fight based on leg kicks,
but they slow down an opponent, limit his movement and force him to
stand and trade in the pocket, right where Gaethje wants them. He
will lead with leg kicks, counter with leg kicks and even throw
some while clinching against the cage. It could be argued that
Gaethje is the most creative leg kicker in the sport today.
Once an opponent’s movements are limited by leg kicks, Gaethje will
back him to the cage and wildly trade in the pocket until somebody
drops. He will often change his pace during these exchanges.
Sometimes, he swings for the fences, and other times, he
intelligently picks his shots for the finish.
Since Gaethje possesses this sometimes-reckless style, he must rely
on a defensive tactic rarely seen in MMA — a tactic that allows
him to defend while coming forward. Gaethje uses what is referred
to in boxing as “bull guard,” which is the act of taking punches on
the forearms and forehead. This is rarely seen in MMA since
fighters cannot hide behind their gloves like they can in boxing;
as a result, an opponent’s punches can sneak through the center of
one’s guard. Gaethje puts both hands in the “answer the phone”
position and takes strikes on the forearms before coming back with
a strike of his own, whether it be a leg kick or a lead hook.
This bull guard defense worked wonders outside of the UFC, but
Gaethje has started to face more competent fighters with the
ability to exploit the deficiencies of this style. Since he keeps
his hands high, Gaethje is prone to body shots and any strikes up
the middle, like knees and uppercuts. Eddie
Alvarez perfectly exploited these holes and ripped to the body
any chance he could, mixing in knees up the middle to give Gaethje
the first loss of his career.
While known more for his striking, Gaethje was an NCAA All-American
wrestler at the University of Northern Colorado. He has offered up
very little in the way of offensive wrestling, but he wields some
of the best takedown defense in the division. Even with his stance
square and out of position, he can defend takedowns and secure top
position. Since Vick likes to grapple, Gaethje may need to lean on
his takedown defense and wrestling chops more than usual.