Johnson vs. Gaethje: Forgettable or Formidable?
Yet another entirely forgettable season of the Ultimate Fighter will conclude on Friday, July 7th .
Those who have yet to see Gaethje (17-0) fight are in for a real treat Friday night. The unbeaten American has won 14 of his 17 fights via KO/TKO and has never shied away from a brawl. In fact, he has often been criticized for his willingness to take punishment and put himself in harms way.
When news broke of his signing with the UFC, hardcore fans were ecstatic considering the fresh matchups he could pursue. The UFC’s Lightweight division is not lacking in talent and the addition of “The Highlight ”makes it all the more stacked. Gaethje has gone the route of another WSOF Champion, Marlon Moraes, by making his debut against a top 5 opponent.
This willingness to jump into the deep end is not surprising in the least when you consider just who Gaethje is and how he fights. For Moraes though, that jump into shark infested waters turned out to be too much to soon.
The level of competition in the UFC clearly surpasses that of the WSOF (now the PFL). Still, we have seen fighters, namely Eddie Alvarez, come from smaller organizations to claim UFC gold. However prevailing wisdom says that Gaethje’s penchant for taking abuse will not serve him well against the truly elite at 155 lbs.
Michael Johnson is among the best in that division and certainly a good test for the debuting Grudge Training Center Product. The Missourian has not looked good as of late going 1-3 in his last 4 fights (though those 3 losses were to Khabib Nurmagomedov, Nate Diaz, and Beneil Dariush).
Johnson has obviously fought higher caliber opponents (with wins over Porier, Barboza, Lauzon, and Ferguson) but he has also been stopped seven times (all by submission). Even in his losing performances, most notably against Nurmagomedov, the Combat Club fighter has shown excellent and accurate striking. Johnson also sports a 47% KO rate. By all accounts this fight will be a striking bonanza and for that reason it is hard to pick against the UFC veteran.
Although Gaethje has the better resume he hasn’t fought nearly the level of fighter “The Menace” has faced. Gaethje has only been a pro for five years compared to Johnson’s 15. Intuitively you would think that the length of their respective careers would correlate to a more brittle/beaten down Johnson but I think the opposite is true.
The former WSOF Champion has relied on his chin for too long, even in comparison to the Missouri native’s long career. It seems like Johnson’s lightening fast and accurate jabs, straights, and hooks will simply be too much for the raging Gaethje. Unless the Division 1 wrestler chooses to follow the precedent set by “The Eagle” I see him falling to Johnson within the first two rounds.
That being said don’t be surprised if the bullying, overwhelming style of Gaethje puts “The Menace” in between a rock and a hard place. Gaethje has always pushed a ridiculous pace and has exclusively trained for five-round fights in the past three years.
The fact that he has never gone past the first three rounds speaks to his insane finishing ability.
“Unless the Division 1 wrestler chooses to follow the precedent set by “The Eagle” I see him falling to Johnson within the first two rounds.”
The Ultimate Fighter Finale is headlined in a pivotal Lightweight tilt that could easily shake things up in the UFC’s most talent rich division. Newcomer Justin Gaethje is looking to upset the apple cart with a win over perennial top 10 Lightweight Michael Johnson.
Conventional wisdom states that Gaethje’s style is not feasible in the sports premier organization. On Friday, July 7th Johnson will look to confirm this view when he welcomes the Former WSOF Champion into the UFC.