Justin Gaethje picks best base skill for MMA, and it’s not wrestling

Former NCAA Division I wrestler Justin Gaethje named what he thinks the best discipline for MMA, and it's not wrestling.

By: Milan Ordoñez | 4 months ago
Justin Gaethje picks best base skill for MMA, and it’s not wrestling

Former UFC interim lightweight champion Justin Gaethje has been competing professionally for nearly 12 years now. Aptly nicknamed “The Highlight,” he’s brought his own brand of violence as a stand-up fighter. Nine out of his 11 UFC appearances have earned him post-fight bonuses, which shows the type of fighter he is.

What many casual fans likely don’t know is that Justin Gaethje is also a collegiate wrestler who competed at the NCAA Division I level. But as he told Cageside Press in a recent interview, he isn’t picking wrestling as the best base discipline for MMA. 

Justin Gaethje names the best discipline for MMA

When asked if he thought that wrestling is the best base for MMA, Gaethje had this to say in response: 

“I don’t (think wrestling is best). I think what these Russians are doing is better. I think it’s wrestling with submissions from a young age. And I think it translates over better. 

“It takes a while to learn to go to your back intuitively when you’re a wrestler your whole life. And that’s something that can get you in trouble in this game.”

For Gaethje, Sambo is just more effective when translated to his chosen sport. He drew comparisons from his experiences as a college wrestler. 

Why Justin Gaethje prefers Sambo for MMA

Throughout his already-notable career, the 34-year-old Gaethje has fought elite-level Sambo fighters. His most recent opponent Rafael Fiziev took up combat sambo growing up. And of course, his most prominent opponent Khabib Nurmagomedov has become the sport’s face in recent years. 

Based on his experiences and observations, Gaethje made his assessment. 

“Sambo is an aggressive sport with the submissions. And I think that’s a better fit for this. But ultimately, I think wrestling is… they both create the person that you have to be to be confident in there. So I think they’re both great things, I just think Sambo is just a little bit better. 

“In wrestling my whole life, I never found a comfortable position being passive. And in Sambo, I can only imagine that there’s got to be seconds, at least, in which that is an advantage.” 

Justin Gaethje’s next fight

Fresh off the battering he gave Fiziev at UFC 286 in March, Justin Gaethje will return to action at UFC 291. He will be headlining the event against Dustin Poirier in a rematch where the now-vacant “BMF” title will also be contested.

For his part, Justin Gaethje doesn’t think too much of the symbolic belt, but he nonetheless had a good reason to say yes. 

“Honestly, my true assessment, like when Masvidal and Diaz fought for it, I was, like, ’This is stupid.’ And I still think it’s kind of stupid,” Gaethje said of the ‘BMF’ title. “However, to the fans that say it’s stupid, I say that it’s ultimately the UFC giving one more fighter one more opportunity to win and to gain an opportunity to get pay-per-view points. 

“This belt — just like interim belts — on paper, are championships. You are a champion in the eyes of the UFC. And when you are a champion in the eyes of the UFC, you’re paid different. 

“So to people that say it’s stupid, I say it’s the UFC literally throwing a bone. And we always ask them to throw a bone, and they never do.”  

UFC 291 happens on July 29th in Salt Lake City, Utah. Set to co-headline the card is the light heavyweight debut of Alex Pereira, who takes on fellow former UFC champion Jan Blachowicz. Also part of the event is the return of Tony Ferguson, who is set to take on Bobby Green.

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About the author
Milan Ordoñez
Milan Ordoñez

Milan Ordoñez has been covering combat sports since 2012 and has been part of the Bloody Elbow staff since 2016. He’s also competed in amateur mixed martial arts and submission grappling tournaments.

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