Justin Gaethje is either attempting to play mind games with UFC lightweight champion Charles Oliveira or fool himself — and his supporters — into believing Oliveira is a quitter.
Gaethje has been beating this drum for a while. It wasn’t true when he landed his first downstroke, and it’s even farther from the truth today. But Gaethje is stubbornly holding onto that frayed and trashed drumstick as his matchup against Oliveira approaches on Saturday in the main event of UFC 274.
Ahead of Oliveira’s UFC 269 title defense against Dustin Poirier, Gaethje said of the champ, “He’s a quitter. He is a quitter. He showed it to you in the Michael Chandler fight. At the end of the first round, he was not looking good, he didn’t want to be there. He doesn’t want to be there when it gets nasty. That’s just what I think, that’s my opinion. And Poirier is going to beat him up.”
Heading into that bout, Oliveira was on a nine-fight winning streak. He was four years removed from his previous loss and coming off a second-round knockout win over Chandler, the man Gaethje said Oliveira didn’t want to “be there” against.
Yes, Chandler hurt Oliveira at the end of the first round of their fight for the vacant UFC lightweight crown, but Oliveira weathered that storm and come out and finished the scrap 19 ticks into the second stanza. Coming back from a bad spot and getting a knockout win is not something a quitter does, but Gaethje is stubbornly — and wrongly — holding onto his take on the reigning champ, who moved his winning streak to 10 straight with his submission win over Poirier at UFC 269.
To get an idea of how outdated Gaethje’s thinking is on this subject, here are the examples he cited where he believed Oliveira quit: Cub Swanson, Donald Cerrone and Anthony Pettis. Yes, Oliveira lost each of those bouts via stoppage, but the most recent of those contests was the Pettis fight and that was in 2016. The setback to Swanson came in 2012 and the Cerrone defeat came a year before that. How long ago was that? Gaethje hadn’t even made his professional MMA debut when Oliveira lost to Cerrone. In MMA, those losses are ancient history.
Despite the dusty and antiquated references, Gaethje is still of the mind that Oliveira is the same fighter he was before he went on a 10-fight winning streak and won and defended the UFC lightweight title.
“I think that’s true, however, once a coward always a coward,” Gaethje said. “I’m not calling him a coward, but I’m saying that’s — you can’t just take that away. It’s there,” said Gaethje.
As for the champ, he’s unfazed by Gaethje’s words.