Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje: Top 5 MMA Finishes

Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje is a former Interim UFC Lightweight Champion, the current no.2-ranked Lightweight fighter as well as being the 12th best Pound for Pound fighter in the UFC. The 32 year-old trains under MMA coach and boxer, Trevor Wittman.

At the age of just four, Justin started to train in wrestling. Later, while studying in Safford High School he became a two-time Arizona State champion and a four-time finalist. He also holds the record for seventh most near falls (218) and ninth most team points secured in the history of Arizona State Wrestling.

Justin was born on 14th November 1988, in Safford, Arizona, United States. His father retired as a copper miner after spending 36 years of his life at the Morenci mines – one of the largest copper reserves in the world.


Justin Gaethje spent a summer in the Morenci mines working 12 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week drilling on the site, planting dynamite, and blowing it up:

“I did it for three months straight and took one sick day because I had to sleep. I did 96 hours one week,”  he provides a glimpse of his arduous labor.

Justin Gaethje is the product of his German-descent father and Mexican-descent mother which brings a culturally interesting mix of strong yin and yang personality traits to life.

His paternal grandfather boxed while serving in the US army and that likely kindled his interest in one-on-one combat sports. Out of his 22 victories, he has had 19 bloody knockouts where he has ruthlessly ripped apart his opponents as coach Trevor Wittman smiles at ringside. 

Gaethje was signed by the World Series of Fighting (WSOF) in 2012. In 2013, he had his debut against Gesias Cavalcante, finishing the fight via first round TKO. His next two fights also resulted in stoppages against Dan Lauzon and Brian Cobb earning him a title match for the inaugural WSOF Lightweight Championship.

Gaethje cleverly ruses his opponents before a fight with a happy countenance portraying the illusion of being just an ordinary nice guy wrestler. Pretty soon however, his smoldering eyes, fury, and rage kick in, showing just how successfully he conceals these energies before the bout.

His professional career saw him going undefeated with 18 victories in a row until he got his hands on Eddie “The Underground King” Alvarez.

Gaethje has long vowed that he wants his fights to be entertaining and that winning alone will not be everything:

“I broke 18 people in a row. On my 19th fight, I found someone that I could not break, and I enjoyed it. I appreciated it,” he proclaimed.

Khabib Nurmagomedov faced Justin Gaethje for his last match at UFC 254 before declaring retirement. Though Gaethje couldn’t overcome the might of “The Eagle”, he won a billion hearts by consoling Khabib over his dad’s death. It was a beautiful moment of respect as he joined the champion at the centre of the ring.

“I’m so sorry I haven’t had the chance to tell you, I’m sorry for your loss, but you just made your father really proud,” Gaethje told Khabib as he wept in the middle of the octagon.

His bout with Eddie Alvarez brought about the first defeat of his MMA career. He saw the referee waving and thought that the time was up only to realize that the referee had actually stopped the fight:

“But yeah, I got up, and I saw his hands up and I saw him waving them, and I tried to tell the ref, ‘You son of a b*tch!”, he recalls the finishing sequence. “But every time I got to the ‘b*tch, I couldn’t say it. I was like, ‘You son of a b—, you son of a b—…okay, good stoppage, good stoppage,he continued.

Gaethje was satisfied that the match matched the lofty expectations of fans. This was UFC 218’s Fight of the Night and ranked as the 5th Greatest Lightweight Fight of All Time bringing several more accolades in its wake. Justin will likely fight Charles Oliveira next, this summer.Now you’ve got the back story on this distinctive, uber-tough fighter let’s get into the hotlist of “The Highlight’s” best, high-impact finishes as we breakdown Justin Gaethje’s Top 5 MMA Finishes! (in descending order)

5. Vs. James Vick – UFC Fight Night 135 (Aug. 25, 2018)

Justin faced American, James Vick fighting out of Team Lloyd Irvin for this UFC main event held at the glittering Pinnacle Bank Arena in Nebraska, USA.

The bell rang and the fighters touched gloves. As Gaethje closed in on his opponent, Vick used front kicks to keep Gaethje at bay. Vick looked somewhat shaky as he wasn’t fully executing his kicks, a bad strategy against the likes of Gaethje.

At a minute, 4 seconds into round one, Justin grapples Vick to the side of the cage whilst Vick pushes Gaethje away following up with a low thigh kick.

At a minute, 27 seconds in, Gaethje comes in sprawling to throw a huge right hand on Vick who gets rattled, falling to the ground.

The referee hurriedly intervened as Gaethje emerged victorious via  knockout at 1 minute, 27 minutes of round one.

Gaethje earned the Performance of the Night and was rewarded with a bonus of $50,000. This bout ranked as the 83rd Greatest Lightweight MMA Fight of All Time, and 6th Best MMA Knockout of the Year, 2018.

4. Vs. Brian Foster – WSOF 29 (March 12, 2016)

This time Justin (as Lightweight WSOF Champion), defended his title against Brian Foster, fighting out of Finney’s HIT Squad in Colorado, USA. At the touch of gloves the match was underway as the crowd cheered wildly with anticipation.

Within 9 seconds of round one, Foster went in aggressively, slamming two quick left-right punches and a swinging left kick to Gaethje’s midsection. Gaethje adjusts his position as he pulls himself back to the periphery of the cage.

There were some serious strikes exchanged by the fighters as the commentators exclaimed that this fight could finish in the first round. At 33 seconds in, Gaethje smashed a hard, right kick to Foster’s knee who appeared bewildered by the intensity of the strike. Gaethje continued his assault with knee kicks.

At 1 minute, 17 seconds, Gaethje rocked Foster’s left knee with another brutal kick and his opponent was now visibly limping. Gaethje continued to target the left knee as Foster collapsed in the cage with the referee intervening at 1 minute, 43 seconds of round one. The kicks resulted in an inevitable knee injury for Foster who sighed with pain as the doctors rushed in to examine him.

Gaethje won the match via knockout, and this match ranked as the 54th Best MMA Knockout of the Year, 2016.

3. Vs. Edson Barboza – UFC on ESPN 2 (March 30, 2019)

This was the main UFC event on ESPN 2 fought at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Gaethje started off quickly with a couple of solid, low leg kicks on the Brazilian Barboza – renowned for being the 11th Greatest MMA Striker of All Time.

At 34 seconds into round one, Edson pounded a sharp, high kick to the head of Gaethje, but it wasn’t enough to rattle him. Gaethje retaliated with a bevy of ruthless jabs and punches to Edson’s face who stumbles to the side of the octagon.

Barboza’s punches, however impressive they looked, just didn’t seem to make any difference to Gaethje. Then, Gaethje begins to stalk Barboza and corners him with low leg strikes.

At 2 minutes, 30 seconds into round one, a sharp, right-hand Gaethje punch lands on Barboza’s face rendering him unconscious as he free falls to the octagon floor.

The referee intervened as Justin ran around with excitement, climbed the octagon and did a back flip as fans roared in the arena.

Gaethje won the match via knockout at 2 minutes, 30 of round one. This match earned Fight of the Night status with both fighters being awarded a $50,000 bonus.

The bout also ranked as the 42nd Greatest Lightweight Fight of All Time, the 11th Best MMA Knockout of the Year 2019, and the 21st  Best MMA Fight of the Year, 2019.

2. Vs. Michael Johnson – TUF 25 Finale (July 7, 2017)

This was the main event of The Ultimate Fighter 25 Finale, held at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The match got underway, this time without a tap of gloves. The first 10 seconds saw the fighters exchange hooks, jabs and kicks. Johnson struck with two quick, left hand jabs to Justin’s face as he pulls himself back.

After gaining some momentum, Gaethje stalks his opponent regardless of the quick jabs coming at him.

At 4 minutes, 35 seconds into round one, Johnson fires a quick right hand jab to Justin’s face again. It appeared for a second that Gaethje might fade to the floor. Sensing an opening, Michael instantly went in for a takedown, brutalizing Justin with hard-hitting knees, steel elbows and ruthless punches.

Gaethje seemed unperturbed coming into the second round after just having absorbed the brunt of Johnson’s ferocious strikes in the final seconds of the first.

Justin started using low kicks to his advantage and whenever he got an opportunity, he hurled heavy jabs at Johnson.

At a minute, 20 seconds into round two, a Johnson swinging right arm punch stunned Justin who appeared surprised by its power. Michael then unleashed brutal upper cuts and hard-hitting knees.

The odds appeared lower and lower now for Gaethje to make a comeback. He looked hurt but somehow managed to stand his ground. Johnson also looked a bit weary as he continued to hit Gaethje.

At 3 minutes, 38 seconds into round two, a Gaethje short-arm jab on Johnson’s nose causes him to cry out in pain. This proved to be Justin’s window as he goes raging in after him with merciless blows; uppercuts and jabs to his face and head.

Johnson falls to the ground but Gaethje wasn’t looking to make him submit as he motions him to stand up.

At 4 minutes, 48 seconds into round two, Gaethje blasts Johnson’s head with heavy knees and massive punches as referee ‘Big John’ McCarthy rushes in to call the match.

Gaethje won the match via knockout as he celebrated by climbing the top of octagon and doing a crowd-pleasing back flip!

Alongside Gaethje earning Fight of the Night honors, he also won a $100,000 dollar bonus. This bout also carries with it a number of other accolades; 20th Greatest Fight of All Time, 6th Greatest Lightweight MMA Fight of all Time, 45th Greatest Comeback of All Time, the Best MMA Fight of the Year 2017, and 51st Best MMA Knockout of the Year 2017.

1. Vs. Tony Ferguson – UFC 249 (May 9, 2020)

This was the first major UFC event held after the initial chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic sine die for the sporting world.

The vacant UFC Interim Lightweight Championship was on the line at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida with no fans in attendance.

The fighters looked nimble from the beginning and changed stances to fruitfully execute their planned moves. Sporadically the fighters threw hooks and Gaethje leaned forward to dish out some powerful right-hand strikes at Tony.

Soon, Gaethje proceeded to crack a few mighty, low-leg kicks on Ferguson who retaliated with a high kick and a jab. Round one finished with the match tied 1-1.

At 22 seconds into round two, Gaethje ruses as he looks down for a fraction of second, giving Ferguson a false opening as he cunningly tricks him with a ferocious right-hand jab to the face as he inched closer to miss a right hook. “OHH my goodness, so nasty!”, commentator Joe Rogan exclaims.

Round two ended with a huge uppercut from Tony as Gaethje hurriedly crawled away from danger.

As round three begins, Justin lands a blow beneath Tony’s eye whereupon he starts to bleed profusely. At 2 minutes, 45 seconds, Gaethje delivers a solid blow right to Tony’s face, following it up with a right-left jab. A serious blitz of punishment rained on Ferguson for the entire rest of the third round.

At 2 minutes, 38 seconds into round four, Gaethje continues from where he left off with powerful right-hand punches as Ferguson flies away to maintain doubly necessary social distancing! The whipping, low kicks he’d received earlier now started to severely restrict Ferguson’s mobility who just seemed to move from one place to the other.

The one-way assault by Gaethje continued as the match entered the fifth round. A powerful combination of left-right jabs stunned Ferguson under a minute in. Ferguson continued to absorb Gaethje’s bloody blows and he showed great heart to stand his ground against “The Highlight”.

By this time, referee Herb Dean had seen enough, stopping the fight at 3 minutes, 39 seconds, just as Ferguson was on the brink of sinking into unconsciousness from Gaethje’s unrelenting strikes. Justin Gaethje won the match via knockout.

The bout was hailed as both the Fight of the Night and Performance of the Night with both fighters receiving a $50,000 bonus. The match also ranked as the; 92nd Biggest Upset of All Time, 34th Greatest Lightweight Fight of All Time, 5th Best MMA Fight of the Year 2020, and 24th Best MMA Knockout of the Year 2020.

So there we have it folks, 5 of Justin Gaethje’s best MMA Finishes! With his significant record of 22 wins with 19 TKO/KO’s and 1 submission, where would you rank him among the all-time best lightweight fighters? What’s your favourite “The Highlight” K.O. from the list above?

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Atif Khan

Atif Khan is an MA graduate in International Journalism from Cardiff University. He is keenly Interested in learning about all types of martial arts and their essence in cultivating strong physical and mental strength. He's always been fascinated by Chinese kung fu pioneers along with their mystical animal styles, forms and poses, and their hard work philosophy leading to a balanced way of life.

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