UFC 286: Justin Gaethje plans to ‘blow the roof off’ O2 Arena with performance against Rafael Fiziev

On Wednesday, Justin Gaethje took almost 12 minutes to answer questions in a low, monotonous voice. He praised Rafael Fiziev, his opponent in Saturday’s UFC 286 co-main event at the O2 Arena in London, England, as one of the sport’s elite strikers. Gaethje called himself the most exciting fighter in UFC history and said he worked hard to learn how to deal with the pressure that comes with being high on the highly anticipated pay-per-view card.

He was not annoyed by questions about Fiziev’s comments about the removal of his heart.

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

He talked about turning things around after two of his last three losses, although it should be noted that those losses were inflicted on two of the greatest lightweights in MMA history, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Charles Oliveira.

Few fighters have been looking for a fight with Gaethje as zealously as Fiziev, but Gaethje understands this matter. He has a big name, and he is in 3rd place, three positions higher than 6th Fiziev. UFC lightweight.

Gaethje believes that with the win, he will immediately be back on the roster for either a title fight or a matchup against someone, probably No. 2 Dustin Poirier, who is number one on the list.

“I think it’s the natural evolution of this sport,” Gaethje said of fighting someone below him who stepped onto the big stage for the first time. “I’m in a loss and I’ve fought for the title in two of my last three fights. Number 6 isn’t that far away so I think for now I should win no matter who it is [against].

“I think I’m currently sitting in 3rd place and will struggle down the rankings like I should. And then, after that, in front of me is Poirier. In front of me is Oliveira, who is going to fight [Beneil] Dariush. The winner of this fight will fight for the title. So I’ll either fight Poirier next or if it’s not, I’ll fight for the title.”

What happens next remains to be seen, especially since he is once again facing another major test. Gaethje has faced one of the toughest opponents in his nearly six years on the UFC roster. Since joining the UFC in 2017, he has fought five fights against men who held the interim or full UFC title. He went 1-2 in those fights, defeating Tony Ferguson to win the 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 then.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 16: (LR) Rivals Justin Gaethje and Rafael Fiziev of Kazakhstan face off during the UFC 286 press conference at Magazine London on March 16, 2023 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Justin Gaethje (left), facing Rafael Fiziev at Thursday’s UFC 286 press conference in London, said he expects the fight against Fiziev to “blow the roof off” at the O2 Arena on Saturday. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

It’s a good job given the resistance he’s faced, but for a guy in a strong division looking to fight for the championship again, it’s not enough. He needs to tie a few wins together to get UFC management Dana White, Hunter Campbell, Mick Maynard and Sean Shelby to put up the fights.

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

He may not be as famous as Gaethje, Oliveira or Nurmagomedov, but he is extremely dangerous and getting better. He is an amazing striker with fast and powerful punches.

For Gaethje, the fight can be a test of will. And while he didn’t show much emotion when talking about this fight and his career, he made two remarks that no one could disagree with.

“I will blow the roof off this arena,” Gaethje said in response to a question about how excited British fans were to see him in person. “I am the most exciting fighter to ever enter the octagon in the history of the sport. Of course I’m proud of it.”

That’s why he was nicknamed “The Punchline” and also why most fans would love to see him if he lost 10 times in a row. If ever there was a fighter who gave the public, ticket buyers and PPV buyers alike, his money’s worth, it’s Gaethje.

In his 10 UFC fights, he won Fight of the Night six times and earned four Performance of the Night bonuses. He also likely received an unofficial award for making most MMA fans scream “Oh my God!” during his fights.

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

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

Gaethje said that Fiziev could join him in this stratosphere of exciting fighters if he continued the path he was on now. When White introduced the post-fight bonus program, it was mainly for fighters to take risks to put on spectacular fights.

Gaethje, however, never consciously made the decision to fight this way.

“It’s not on purpose,” Gaethje said. “It’s just who I am. This is who I was in the fight. You know, wrestling can be boring. My wrestling matches have never been boring. its from.”

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


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