(This post originally appeared on MMAFrenzy.)
Justin Gaethje has kept his wrestling game on the backburner since arriving in the UFC, really, for much of his fighting career. But, could we see that change on Saturday night? When he throws down with James Vick?
Now, if you’re just a casual fan who’s only seen Gaethje fight a couple of times, you might not know that the aggressive fighter has pretty significant, wrestling creds. In fact, the former WSOF lightweight champ is a former NCAA Division 1 wrestler.
But, as Gaethje has talked about on numerous occasions, he prefers to punish his opponents with his feared leg kicks and punches, rather than takedowns. So much so, he is widely known as one of the most aggressive strikers in the game.
As Gaethje prepares to face Vick at UFC FN 135 this Saturday in Lincoln, however, he’s in uncharted waters. Gaethje is coming off the first losses in his pro-career to date, and he was finished by Dustin Poirier and Eddie Alvarez respectively. Due to the punishment he took in those bouts, and even in his thrilling win over Michael Johnson before that, there’s been talk about whether Gaethje might throw his wrestling into the mix. Especially since he’s about to face the 6’3 tall Vick.
Well, as it turns out, Gaethje has brought in his college wrestling coach, Ben Cherrington, to help him prepare for Saturday’s headliner. While talking to MMA Fighting about that decision, Gaethje said this:
“Honestly, it’s just a different kind of shape. The reason I don’t wrestle is because I’m nervous to get tired, and I get tired in wrestling because I didn’t wrestle for the last three years or so. So, it’s just really to get in shape. It’s definitely not implying that I’m going to go into my fight and wrestle, by any means,” Gaethje said, reportedly joking. “But he’ll be in my corner so maybe I’ll remember to take one or two double-legs.”
Now, while Gaethje was apparently joking around when he made those comments, could there be a grain of truth in them? It’s possible.
Leading up to UFC FN 135, Vick has called Gaethje the “Homer Simpson of MMA”, and he’s noted how much punishment the veteran fighter has taken. So, maybe we will see Gaethje come with some takedown attempts, particularly if he’s eating some big shots early on. And really, this would be well advised. There’s no question that Gaethje’s proven time and time again how tough he is, but as we’ve seen with so many other fighters, your chin is a finite resource.
In all likelihood, however, takedowns are probably plan B or even C for Gaethje. Chances are that pressure, legkicks, and hooks are plan A.