If you ask 25-year-old Justin Gaethje, he’ll tell you that there isn’t really any secret to his success. From starting on the wrestling mats at the young age of four, to defeating Rich Patishnock in just over a minute to win the World Series of Fighting lightweight championship, it all just comes down to putting in the work.

The 11-0 Grudge Training Center product has made a pretty good case for his philosophy so far, as he not only holds an undefeated professional career with 10 finishes, but also had an undefeated amateur career of 7-0. While one might expect becoming a champion so quickly may get to a young man’s head, according to Gaethje, it’s only making him train harder.

Gaethje (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Gaethje (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

“It’s actually easier for me,” Gaethje admitted to The MMA Corner. “That’s where I want to be. I don’t have to worry about anybody right now, just myself. I got to try and make myself quit every single workout I put myself through, and no one else is going to push me harder than myself.”

His extreme abundance of self-motivation has also bred an equal amount of self-confidence in his ability to win. Gaethje might not be competing against the cream of the crop in the WSOF, but that by no means should indicate that he has had an easy career. In only his sixth fight, he demolished UFC vet Drew Fickett in just 12 seconds. He’s also defeated Strikeforce vet Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante, and in his last fight before becoming champion, Gaethje scored a TKO victory over Dan Lauzon.

All of this was in a career that started not even three years ago.

“I signed with World Series of Fighting a year and a half ago, and it’s four fights, and I have a belt,” said the champion. “So, no, I didn’t expect that, but I got to take it one fight at a time. I can’t be looking at the future.”

Apparently there is no wasted time for Mr. Gaethje sitting on the mats in the Grudge Training Center dreaming of knocking out UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. If the opportunity eventually comes, so be it, but for the moment, Gaethje knows that time not spent preparing for his current fight is wasted time.

His opponent, Nick Newell, also knows a thing or two about hard work. The 28-year-old lightweight from Connecticut was born with one hand due to a congenital amputation. That hasn’t stopped the contender from strangling opponents and taking names with him along the way. Newell, like the champion, holds a perfect 11-0 record, with 10 of those wins being stoppages.

“He’s got 10 finishes, I’ve got 10 finishes,” said Gaethje. “On paper, it’s amazing.”

If you look at it on paper, it really is a classic case of striker vs. grappler. The champion has nine of his 10 finishes by way of knockout or TKO, and the challenger has eight of his 10 finishes by way of submission.

Fights aren’t decided on paper, though.

“The good thing for me is, I’ve been training my whole life for what Nick’s trying to do,” Gaethje explained. “I’ve been wrestling since I was four years old. He’s trying to get my head down, and that’s what wrestling is—trying to control a person’s head and move on to the legs.”

Gaethje (center) (Lucas Noonan/WSOF)

Gaethje (center) (Lucas Noonan/WSOF)

There really isn’t any secret for what either fighter is trying to do here. This is mixed martial arts, though, so anything is possible. However, in Gaethje’s opinion, his opponent will try to keep taking him down, and when he can’t, he’ll be left vulnerable.

“I’m going to keep it standing. He’s going to try and take me down, and I’m going to stuff takedowns, and keep it standing, where he doesn’t want to be, and make him uncomfortable,” Gaethje predicted.

Even though he intends to finish Newell, like he has with most of his other opponents, Gaethje can still appreciate hard work when he sees it. He might not consider Newell his toughest test, but who can’t respect someone like Newell coming this far in the sport when, on paper, no one would think he’d stand a chance.

Still, Gaethje has a job to do, and it doesn’t matter who’s standing across from him come fight night.

“[It] sucks. I wish I was not the person that had to do this, but that’s the position I’m in, and I’m going to have to knock Nick out.”

Justin would like to thank Powerbilt Golf Clubs, Gamma Labs, Open Loop Mining Company, KBL Industrial Services, Coyote Motorsports, and Grudge Training Center. Follow Gaethje on Twitter: @Justin_Gaethje

About The Author

Zach Miller
Staff Writer

Zach is a Boston native and has had a fascination with martial arts since playing Mortal Kombat at five years old. He was introduced to MMA after watching The Ultimate Fighter 5: Team Pulver vs. Team Penn. A recent graduate of the University of New Hampshire, Zach seeks to one day become a full-time MMA journalist. In addition to watching the sport, he has also trained in Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu, kickboxing, and tae kwon do. Zach has also written for NortheastMMA.