Bad news for anyone who might not know: Justin Gaethje, just like any other fighter in this world, cannot compete forever. I know, a shocking and hard pill to swallow.
The flashy lightweight is just as aware of this as anyone else, and after more than a decade in MMA, he is certainly thinking about what’s next for him. In an interview with MMA Fighting, Gaethje described the ideal timeline for his future in the sport.
Will ‘The Highlight’ only play for three more years?
Justin Gaethje is open about the amount of time he feels like he still has left for him in the sport. At 34 years old, he thinks that three more years might be the right amount of time before officially departing the sport of MMA.
“I would like to say that at 37 I would like to not be doing this anymore,” Gaethje said. “I’m 34 now. Two, three years is a long time, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that long. I’ve been doing this 12, 13 years. So ultimately it is the backend of my career in this sport. That’s just the train of thought I have.”
Gaethje is set to appear in the main event of UFC 291 next month against Justin Gaethje. In that fight, he’ll be trying to avenge a loss he took in 2018 on a UFC on FOX card. No official world title will be on the line in Salt Lake City, Utah, but UFC’s “BMF” title will be awarded to the winner of the bout.
Grappling with when is the right time to leave
Anyone who has followed MMA knows the story of a fighter that stuck around too long and took unnecessary damage due to that. Gaethje has seen that happen to fighters but also seen some leave when they should have stuck around longer. His goal of potentially retiring in three years is what he hopes a nice balance struck in the middle of those two possible situations.
“I’ve been a huge fan of this sport. I’ve followed so many athletes. I’ve seen examples of people fighting too long, people quitting too early, [and] people stopping at just the right moment. I’d like to fall into that just the right moment situation.”
Justin Gaethje will retire as soon as he doesn’t believe he can be the best
Justin Gaethje is arguably the textbook definition of a fan favorite. His brawling style has led him to earn 11 fight night bonuses in his career, which ties him eighth all-time in the promotion’s history for that statistic.
He has fought at a high level in UFC’s lightweight division for years. Following his majority decision win over Rafael Fiziev from earlier this year, Gaethje now finds himself placed third in the division’s official rankings.
Gaethje doesn’t hide that his main motivation for still competing is winning the world title (and the “BMF” belt that he’s competing for at UFC 291 doesn’t count). If a title shot doesn’t seem possible for Gaethje, that might be when he exits the scene.
“As soon as I don’t believe I can be the best in the world with the skills I possess, then I don’t see any reason to go in there and risk what we’re risking with each and every fight,” he said.
Justin Gaethje was an interim titleholder in 2020 after defeating Tony Ferguson at UFC 249. He lost a title unification bout later that year to Khabib Nurmagomedov. He has had one more championship opportunity since then, losing a bout against Charles Oliveira last year.
About the author