UFC 286: Justin Gaethje plans to ‘blow up’ the O2 arena with performance against Rafael Fiziev

For almost 12 minutes on Wednesday, Justin Gaethje answered questions in a low, monotonous tone. He praised Rafael Fiziev, his opponent in Saturday’s co-main event of UFC 286 at the O2 Arena in London, England, as one of the sport’s elite forwards. Describing himself as the most exciting fighter in UFC history, Gaethje said he’s worked hard to deal with the pressure that comes from being at the top of a highly anticipated pay-per-view card.

He wasn’t upset when asked about comments Fiziev made about taking his heart.

Everything he said was to the point and made a lot of sense.

He spoke of turning things around after losing two of his last three, although it should be noted that those losses involved two of the biggest lightweights in MMA history, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Charles Oliveira.

There have not been many fighters who have been as eager to find a match with Gaethje as Fiziev, but Gaethje understands the business. He’s a big name and at #3 he’s three spots above #6 Fiziev Lightweight in the UFC rankings.

With a win, Gaethje believes he’ll be right back in the mix for either a title shot or a match against someone, likely No. 2 Dustin Poirier, ahead of him.

“I think that’s the natural progression of this sport,” Gaethje said of fighting someone below him and making it onto the biggest stage for the first time. “I’m coming off a loss and have fought for the title in two of my last three fights. Number 6 isn’t that far down so at this point I think I have to win and it doesn’t matter who it is [against].

“I think I’m sitting 3rd right now and will fight down the rankings like I should. And after that Poirier is in front of me. Oliveira is in front of me who is going to fight [Beneil] dariush The winner of this fight will fight for the title. So I’m either fighting Poirier next, or if that’s not the case, I’m fighting for the title.”

What happens next remains to be seen, especially as he faces yet another major challenge. Gaethje has faced some of the toughest opponents in his nearly six years on the UFC roster. Since joining the UFC in 2017, he has had five fights against men who hold an interim or full UFC title. He went 1-2 in those fights, defeating Tony Ferguson to win an interim lightweight title and losing to Eddie Alvarez, Poirier, Nurmagomedov and Oliveira. He was 17-0 before joining the UFC and 6-4 in his 10 fights since.

Justin Gaethje (L), who faces Rafael Fiziev at Thursday’s UFC 286 press conference in London, said he expected Saturday’s fight with Fiziev to blow the roof of the O2 Arena. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

That’s fine work given the opponents he faces, but it’s not enough for a man in a stacked division aspiring to fight for the championship again. He needs to string together some victories to force the hands of UFC leaders Dana White, Hunter Campbell, Mick Maynard and Sean Shelby denying the bouts.

That’s why Fiziev is such a great fight for him. Fiziev is 6-1 in the UFC and 12-1 overall after winning his last six fights. He capped it off with a dominant win over former champion Rafael dos Anjos.

He may not be as well known as Gaethje, Oliveira or Nurmagomedov but he’s extremely dangerous and he’s getting better all the time. He’s a great striker with fast, powerful kicks.

For Gaethje, the fight could be a test of will. And while he showed little emotion when discussing that fight and his career, he made two points that no one could dispute.

“I’m going to blow the roof of this arena,” Gaethje replied when asked how excited the British fans were to see him in person. “I am the most exciting fighter to ever step foot in the Octagon in the history of this sport. Of course I’m proud of that.”

That’s why he’s nicknamed “The Highlight” and also why most fans would long to see him if he lost ten straight games. If there was ever a fighter who got their money’s worth from the public, both ticket buyers and PPV buyers, it’s Gaethje.

In his 10 UFC fights, he has won six fights of the night and earned four performance of the night bonuses. He’s probably also gained an unofficial mark of having most MMA fans yell, “Oh my god!” during his fights.

There’s something about him that pushes him beyond what he thinks he’s capable of. His belief in himself as the sport’s most exciting fighter has evolved over time and with each successive fight.

“I don’t just believe it,” Gaethje said of his status as the UFC’s most exciting fighter of all time. “You believe it. You all believe it. You know it’s true. It’s not on purpose. It’s just who I am. This is how I start.

Gaethje said Fiziev could join him in this stratosphere of exciting fighters if he continues on the path he is currently on. When White introduced the Post Fight Bonus program, it was essentially designed to get fighters to take risks in order to have fun fights.

However, Gaethje never consciously chose to fight like this.

“It’s not on purpose,” Gaethje said. “It’s just who I am. It’s who I was in wrestling. You know, wrestling can be boring. My wrestling matches have never been boring. It’s just like that. I don’t know why. I can’t turn it away.”

And for that, a legion of MMA fans are eternally grateful.

Source : sports.yahoo.com

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