UFC 274 will be Justin Gaethje's second chance at becoming the undisputed lightweight champion of the world. Now, he's the only half of the main event that can walk away as the champion due to a .5lb weight miss by Charles Oliveira.
Regardless of the controversy, 'The Highlight' has a dangerous opponent in front of him as he tries to secure championship gold in his native Arizona. His Brazilian counterpart has really come into his own with his striking abilities. But it's mostly Olivera's submission threat that will be on Gaethje's mind at every moment he's in the octagon.
The oncoming threats are plentiful, but Gaethje is very much a live underdog in this fight. He's got quite the toolset and incredible power to go with it. Furthermore, he may be the most violent fighter that the UFC has ever seen. Quite the challenge is ahead of Justin Gaethje, but he's very capable of scoring the homecoming victory.
Here are five keys to victory for Justin Gaethje:
#5. Find his range
Justin Gaethje will enter this bout with a four-inch reach disadvantage. His Brazilian adversary is very skilled at both fighting long and closing the distance to fight from the clinch.
To gain an advantage, the 33-year-old challenger will look to force the fight into boxing range. His hands contain so much power, and he's one of a kind with his ability to throw damaging kicks from close range.
The path of least resistance here would be to engage at an in-between distance. Not at the end of Oliveira's punches, but not too close to be sucked into the clinch easily. Though Gaethje is a skilled wrestler, he'd be wise not to lean on that tool when taking on the fighter with the most submission victories in UFC history.
#4. Be careful with his posture
Gaethje managed to make it 18 fights into his career before he finally tasted defeat. Being on the wrong end of two consecutive finishes prompted 'The Highlight' to become a more calculated fighter.
Formerly, Gaethje would duck his head down to defend against oncoming blows. While he doesn't do this as much now, it could be the beginning of the end if Oliveira can grab ahold of his neck. So it of the upmost importance that 'The Highlight' stays true to his more calculated ways.
Gaethje is a much different fighter now, but bad habits are hard to completely get rid of. Olivera showed how much he likes to attack the body in his most recent victory over Dustin Poirier. Should he take a similar approach this time around, Gaethje would be wise not to sacrifice his posture and subsequently his neck to defend his body.
#3. Put the pressure on
Most routes of success for the Brazilian will stem from his putting pressure on Justin Gaethje. That's why 'The Highlight' should flip the script and press forward himself.
If Gaethje keeps his opponent on the backfoot, then the threat of takedowns and offensive onslaught from Oliveira's range should be mitigated. Furthermore, it'll look better to the judges if Gaethje can press the action and land his big shots.
Although Gaethje is able to fight backwards, it's a bit more taxing on the cardio to throw power while constantly moving backwards or circling away from the cage. In his first attempt to become the lightweight champion, Gaethje lost to Khabib Nurmagomedov after being noticeably tired from perpetual backward motion. He'll need to do his best to not fall into the same type of fight against Charles Oliveira.
#2. Choose his low kicks carefully
One of the most dangerous, if not the most dangerous, aspect of Gaethje's game is his low kicks. He's one of the few MMA fighters that has stoppage wins from kicking his opponent's legs so much.
This kick has some silver lining for Oliveira, however. Low kicks are one of the easiest kicks to catch and score takedowns off of. Furthermore, this technique was Gaethje's most successful against Nurmagomedov, but ultimately led to his demise. 'The Eagle' caught a low kick in the second round of their 2020 bout and the submission shortly followed.
This is not to say that Gaethje should steer clear of this technique entirely. He just needs to be extremely calculated when he decides to fire off attacks at the legs of his opponent.
#1. Truly test his opponent's durability
Justin Gaethje has been very candid in his critiques over 'do Bronx'. While 'The Highlight' has made a career out of being the quintessential tough fighter, Oliveira has a past of seeming like he doesn't want to be in the octagon.
This is all in the past now. The Brazilian is on a ten-fight winning streak and Gaethje utilizes a much more technical style now. Regardless, Justin Gaethje will be there to open many exit doors for his counterpart.
As the bout begins, Gaethje should be at his most calculated while staying true to his violent self. Throwing relentless attacks coupled with a suffocating pace will be the most viable route for Gaethje to secure a win in his home state.