There is a slew of potential opponents for former WSOF champion Justin Gaethje. The skilled knockout specialist is undefeated through seventeen professional fights and will now finally make his UFC debut. Gaethje says he wants a guy that thinks he can take away his undefeated record, so here I will put together the eight best fights for his promotional debut.
1. Edson Barboza
On Twitter, Justin Gaethje said he wanted the scariest lightweight for his first fight, someone who could knock him out. As far as knockout power goes, there might be nobody scarier than Edson Barboza. The highlight reel of Barboza is something to see. From his devastating leg kicks to his phenomenal knockout ability, Barboza is one scary guy. Even when he’s not on his A game he is still one of the most dangerous fighters in the world. His last fight is just more proof of this. Despite getting beat to the punch all night Barboza landed a fight-ending flying knee that was as beautiful as it was vicious.
A fight between these two would be fantastic. Justin Gaethje is a guy who never backs up. He will take punches to give punches and so far it was worked for him flawlessly. Edson Barboza is a technical Muay Thai striker with arguably the best kicks in MMA today. Barboza is currently on a career-best run and as looked remarkable in his latest victories.
2. Michael Johnson
Coming off of a loss to a top three UFC lightweight, Michael Johnson is looking to bounce back in a big way. While fighting a promotional newcomer isn’t your typical statement fight, Justin Gaethje is not your typical UFC newcomer. He is a proven top lightweight with a fan friendly style and this gives MJ a chance to end the hype before it really gets started. Michael Johnson is a wrestler who uses his fast hands to put together great combinations. Johnson has notable knockout power on both hands and he is a tough matchup for anybody at lightweight.
This fight would be an interesting way to introduce Justin Gaethje to the ranks. Michael Johnson is a known top 10 talent with much to prove while Gaethje is widely regarded as a top lightweight and will be looking to prove that claim himself. This fight is a solid test for both fighters and a chance to make Gaethje an instant contender while MJ gets his shot to end the hype train.
3. Khabib Nurmagomedov
It appears dominant undefeated lightweight contender Khabib Nurmagomedov might have shot himself in the foot by pulling out of his UFC 209 title elimination match against Tony Ferguson. While pondering where to go with Khabib him next I can’t help but be interested in a fight between him and Justin Gaethje. The UFC can hype this fight with the ever overused “The 0 Must Go” tagline and we get to watch two undefeated beasts take the octagon. Khabib Nurmagomedov has proven himself a special talent with his ability to outwrestle wrestlers and out grapple grapplers with relative ease.
Justin Gaethje is a very solid wrestler himself, making this an intriguing contest. Khabib, though, has never had an issue applying his game in a fight. Both guys are always moving forward and while both are looking to apply a much different game plan, they are non-stop action fighters. We can argue that Gaethje in no way deserves a top 3 guy in his debut, but with Khabib’s track record of showing up, it could be a way for him to prove he will show on fight night despite the dangers of losing to a debutant.
4. Al Iaquinta
“Raging” Al Iaquinta has done well to build quite a fanbase with his recent *ahem* narrative, and his technical striking and knockout power could definitely provide the kind of challenge Justin Gaethje is looking for in his debut. The hype for this fight will build itself. Both men talk the talk, and walk the walk, and both have a fan friendly style that will guarantee fireworks come fight night. Al Iaquinta is technically sound with finishing ability in both his punches and kicks.
This fight would be a fun one for the fans. The walking highlight reel that is Justin Gaethje will always put on the best show and he has proven that over his MMA career. Al Iaquinta isn’t one to run away from a fun fight and his counter striking ability makes for an intriguing battle as both look to prove their worth and contendership.
5. Evan Dunham
While this isn’t the most flashy fight for the promotional debut of Justin Gaethje, it is a great way to introduce him to the UFC fans. This fight could easily co-main event a free card, and it could provide great action for as long as it last. At his core, Evan Dunham is a lot like Justin Gaethje. Dunham has very good wrestling and jiu-jitsu skills, but he would much rather stand in the middle of the octagon and let the fists fly on fight night. Dunham was once a solid title contender and should he get his injuries under control it would be interesting to see how he performs against another top 15 guy.
Both men have a granite chin, both men love a good brawl, and both men have little interest in putting on a boring fight. This might not be the big debut Gaethje was looking for, but it would be a fantastic fight with a top 15 lightweight.
6. David Teymur
Swedish Muay Thai specialist David Teymur stopped a similar hype train at UFC 209 where he defeated Lando Vannata. He seemed to be relishing his role as the underdog and his opportunity to prove he was one to watch at lightweight. While he definitely proved himself a lot of the lightweight hype has shifted to the debut of Justin Gaethje, and it would be interesting to see if David Teymur can pull off the upset once again. The fight of the year candidate between Teymur and Vannata is a fight for the ages, and a battle with “The Highlight” would likely top that fight in action and unpredictability.
This fight would be fun and a perfect way for one of these fierce competitors to show the world why they are the fighter to watch in a stacked lightweight division. David Teymur has powerful and pure Muay Thai technique that makes him one of the toughest fights on the feet. Justin Gaethje loves to engage in a fun slugfest that ends in spectacular fashion. This makes for a very intriguing fight.
7. Tony Ferguson
While this fight is highly unlikely, it is pretty much the perfect fight. Tony Ferguson is a action fighter who looks to strike at every opportunity. His unpredictability is one of his main assets with nasty elbows, crazy jumping, and flipping attacks that make him one of the most dynamic fighters Mixed Martial Arts has ever seen. His amazing cardio, granite chin, wrestling, and BJJ make him one one the best ever skill-for-skill. This pretty much mirrors everything Justin Gaethje does as a fighter. Gaethje is a non-stop fighter with huge knockout power and a similar unpredictability to his game often throwing and landing strikes you wouldn’t think possible.
While unlikely to happen at this moment, obviously this is a fight fans will get behind. It is a match made in heaven for fans of the sport and with any luck, it happens sooner than later.
8. Nate Diaz
The most unlikely fight on the list is a fight with Nate Diaz. While it is everything a fan can dream of it is most likely a fight we will never see. Has Nate Diaz ever been backed up? The answer is yes but not often and Justin Gaethje is gonna be in his face each round of the fight. Diaz fights best when guys play his game and brawl with him, this provides the challenge Gaethje is looking for and a fight fans will absolutely love to watch. Nate’s boxing, GOAT-level chin, and ability to hang in a brawl is likely to provide some issues for the undefeated WSOF champion. That said, the unpredictable style, unprecedented knockout ability, and pure will to win makes Justin Gaethje a real threat and a chance to out brawl a great brawler like Nate Diaz.
Again, this fight has little chance of ever happening, but what a fight it would be. Fans would definitely get behind this war, and it is certain to draw viewers and potentially make for a fight of the year candidate.