There’s little chance UFC lightweight contender Justin Gaethje will be seen as a calculating tactician.
His reckless style has been his trademark, making him one of the organization’s most popular fighters.
But the 30-year-old is starting to put some finer touches on his rugged approach.
“My output has dropped about 85 percent, if you look at it, and my coach told me forever, ‘Just try a little bit less and you will find more success,’ ” Gaethje said this week in advance of his UFC Fight Night 158 main event bout against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in Vancouver, British Columbia. “It’s like golf. The harder you try, the worse you are to do it.
“It doesn’t make sense to me because I come from wrestling, where the harder you work, the better you did. But once I lost two times in a row, I was able to go back to the drawing board and take the criticism and try to make the adjustments.”
Gaethje’s more cerebral approach to fighting figures to be put to the test against Cerrone, who will invite a brawl.
It’s likely Gaethje will be willing to oblige, as long as it leads to a win.
He entered the UFC undefeated in 17 career fights and as a former World Series of Fighting Champion. After a wild victory over Michael Johnson in his UFC debut, Gaethje dropped two in a row, leading to some reflection on what he wanted to get out of the sport.
Once content to be a fan favorite, Gaethje realized he wanted more out of his career.
He has won his last two fights and has his sights set on the top of the division.
“I want to win a world title,” he said. “That’s what brings you notoriety as the best in the world. I’m going to leave and quit this when I don’t believe I can be the best in the world and I don’t have a chance.
“That’s foremost what’s going to create my legacy, but it’s also how I treat people, the way the people from the UFC see me, the way the fans see me, the way I get to interact with people. Anytime you ask me in my career, the answer will be different, but it will always surround positivity.”
The card also features the return of heavyweight Todd Duffee, who last fought in a first-round knockout loss to Frank Mir in July 2015. The 33-year-old has been through contractual issues and several injuries that included a freak gym accident that cost him two years.
Duffee, once considered a top prospect, will fight Jeff Hughes.
The main card streams live on ESPN Plus at 5 p.m., with the preliminary card starting at 2.
Cerrone challenges McGregor
Cerrone was asked about former champion Conor McGregor potentially getting a title shot at lightweight against champion Khabib Nurmagomedov this year.
He scoffed at the notion of McGregor even wanting to fight.
“Do you think he comes back, though?” Cerrone asked. “I mean, it’s been a lot of talk and a lot of years. Who knows? It’s just not even worth it to me anymore.”
Cerrone said he thinks top contender Tony Ferguson deserves the next shot at Nurmagomedov.
GSP vs. Khabib possible?
The debate about Nurmagomedov’s next opponent has mostly focused on McGregor or Ferguson. But there might be someone else.
Nurmagomedov’s manager, Ali Abdelaziz, told TMZ this week that the champion’s plan is to fight former welterweight and middleweight champion Georges St. Pierre.
“Georges is my friend for 10 years, and I know Georges wants to fight Khabib,” Abdelaziz told the website. “If you’re going to compare Tony Ferguson, he beat a whole bunch of guys, but he’s never been a champion.”
St. Pierre, 38, has fought once since 2013, when he won the middleweight title from Michael Bisping in November 2017.
■ Sept. 14: UFC Fight Night 158 (ESPN Plus), Vancouver, British Columbia
■ Sept. 21: UFC Fight Night 159 (ESPN Plus), Mexico City
■ Sept. 27: Bellator 227 (Paramount), Dublin
■ Sept. 28: UFC Fight Night 160 (ESPN Plus), Copenhagen
■ Sept. 27: Bellator 228 (Paramount), Inglewood, California