Justin Gaethje didn’t get to where he is by being a boring fighter. After a long run of exciting fights in World Series of Fighting where he served as their champion, he moved over to the UFC and has had three bouts so far - all of them being fight of the year contenders.
While his fan-friendly style has earned him a lot of admirers, it doesn’t seem to be enough to win fights against top-tier competition in the UFC. The thing with Gaethje though is that he doesn’t just have to rely on his striking if he doesn’t want to. The man is an NCAA Div 1 All-American wrestler and two-time state champ, giving him some of the most impressive wrestling credentials in the lightweight division.
So when he was asked the obvious question about why he didn’t use his wrestling much against Poirier (or anyone) on The MMA Hour, his answer was typically honest - but still a bit confusing (via MMA Fighting):
“I’ve been wrestling my whole life. I should’ve and could’ve took him down a couple of times, especially when I had him rocked just to steal a round or two. For some reason, my mind will not let me do it.
“I think I sold myself so hard on the fact that this is not wrestling. I don’t know, I honestly don’t know the answer to that question.”
“It gets you tired. If I’m going to get tired, I’d rather it be from fighting and not from wrestling. That’s the reason why I never wanted to wrestle. But I did so much cardio this camp that it would not have been a problem for me to turn it into a wrestling match, but I just can’t do it, it would not be fun for me.”
But when it came up again later, Gaethje changed tacks a bit and said that while wrestling could have been effective, it would have been contrary to his real gameplan against Poirier anyway:
“I took a hard shot, it knocked me out. I definitely have to keep people guessing whether I’m going to take them down. My main game plan on Saturday night was to go in their and break his legs, and right off the bat I had a lot of success in doing that.
“I know why I didn’t take him down, it would have defeated the entire purpose of my game plan. If I took him down I wouldn’t be able to kick his leg, that’s what my mindset was.”
Poirier defeated Gaethje via TKO in the fourth round of their UFC Fight Night bout in Arizona earlier this month.