When the World Series of Fighting aired their debut show in November 2012, current WSOF Lightweight Champion Justin Gaethje had just six professional fights to his name. Two and a half years later he is the promotion’s reigning lightweight champion and will headline WSOF 19 this weekend on Saturday, March 28th against Luis Palomino.
Six times Gaethje has stepped into the WSOF cage, and six times he has walked out victorious. Only UFC veteran Melvin Guillard has taken him the distance. Despite fighting in a company that has promoted a number of more established names – Rousimar Palhares, Jon Fitch, Jake Shields and Yushin Okami to name but four – Gaethje has been the company’s stand out performer. Justin Gaethje is the name on everyone’s lips when World Series of Fighting is brought up in discussion.
At least, that is how it should be. Gaethje’s exciting, violent, bloodthirsty performances should have turned him into the most recognizable lightweight outside of the UFC. Sadly, his current level of notoriety has some catching up to do.
Type “Justin Gaethje” into Wikipedia and you will find nothing but links to pages of WSOF events, confirming that the fighter does not even have his own entry.
Despite holding the 155 lb. title in one of the largest promotions outside of the UFC, Gaethje has just 2,382 Twitter followers at the time of this writing.
To put that into perspective, “well known” UFC Lightweight Johnny Case has 2,614. Bellator’s Lightweight Champion Will Brooks has 5,454. Their former champion, Michael Chandler, has 30,000. Former UFC and WEC Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis has 234,000.
Perhaps Gaethje just isn’t very good at Twitter. More likely, the numbers serve to indicate how much more difficult it is for fighters to make a name for themselves in World Series of Fighting.
This is an all-violence, all-the-time sort of fighter that should have fans flocking to see what he can produce next. In his WSOF debut he left the cage doused in Gesias Cavalcante’s blood thanks to murderous punches, knees and elbows he threw to break open a hole in his opponent’s head.
He beat up another veteran, Brian Cobb, and stopped him with leg kicks, something that happens so rarely in MMA that most of us remember Pat Barry finishing Dan Evensen with them at UFC 92. But then, unlike Gaethje, he at least has his own Wikipedia page to remind us.
Gaethje blasted Richard Patishnock out to win the lightweight title in a first round that was starting to look like the MMA equivalent of Hagler vs Hearns, minus the name value. His most recent win, a decision victory over Melvin Guillard, gave him a more credible, UFC-recognized name to add to his resume.
Despite that, Gaethje’s unpredictable and exciting fights remain a treat enjoyed by far too few. Eventually Gaethje will end up in the UFC testing himself against the best in the world. Very few fighters of his caliber go a whole career without stepping into the Octagon at some point. In the meantime, what more can he do to get noticed?
Saturday night’s lightweight title defense against tough the Peruvian Palomino could help him gain traction. For all of Gaethje’s destructive, creative striking and highlight reel finishing combinations, he has not yet found an opponent to push him all the way in an exciting, back and forth encounter. Few things please fans more than a competitive five round war. Guillard took him the distance – albeit just three rounds after the challenger failed to make weight – but it was rarely fun.
Where Gaethje is creative in his striking, Palomino is unorthodox. Both have produced awe inspiring finishes in previous WSOF bouts, and more importantly, both have shown they can endure punishment and stay in fights when they get hit. The basic ingredients are there, now it’s time for the fighters to deliver.
For any fighter, becoming a true MMA superstar without the UFC at this point in time is a herculean task, for Gaethje perhaps an impossible one. A competitive, brutal, bloody war of attrition with Luis Palomino at WSOF 19 on Saturday night can only help.