Justin Gaethje vs. Luis Palomino 2 isn’t your normal immediate rematch. When the two lightweights met in March with the WSOF title on line, things for the most part played out exactly as expected. The night wasn’t marred by any fight-ending injuries or clumsy refereeing mistakes, there were no egregious scorecards or outstanding controversies to cry over.
Rather, the fight simply wound up being so ridiculously fun and entertaining, WSOF matchmaker Ali Abdel-Aziz felt compelled to run it back.
“When a guy like Luis Palomino fights and puts it on the line and takes risks, and he puts on such an amazing fight like that, and he calls me immediately on Monday for a rematch, we will give him a rematch,” said Abdel-Aziz. “We will not say no to him.
“When you fight and put on exciting fights like that, [you get] immediate rematches. As Justin said, Luis Palomino is the most dangerous guy in the lightweight division, and if anybody can give Justin problems, it’s Luis Palomino.”
It’s true, to simply label their first meeting a brawl would be doing a disservice to the madness that unfolded that muggy night in the desert. For the better part of three rounds, Gaethje and Palomino clenched down on their mouthpieces and stood toe-to-toe, trading wild, unhinged haymakers in an elaborate game of pugilistic chicken.
Gaethje finally ended things with a devastating salvo late in the third, defending his WSOF lightweight title for a second time and preserving his undefeated 14-0 record. While it was the kind of fight that lops years off fighters’ careers, it was also the kind of fight the 26-year-old Gaethje is quickly becoming known to enjoy, and even he can’t fault Abdel-Aziz for hoping to cash in on another potential ‘Fight of the Year’ candidate at WSOF 23.
“I’ve been quoted in a couple interviews saying that it shouldn’t have been Luis Palomino, but I also think there’s nobody in World Series of Fighting in the lightweight division aside from me who could beat Luis,” said Gaethje. “Even though I’ve already beaten him, already finished him, I think he’s still the most worthy contender right now. He brings the most threats, the most explosiveness, and he’s been around the longest out of any of the lightweights in WSOF right now.
“The casual fan, even a fan who’s never watched MMA, they watch the fight between me and Luis Palomino and they see that it’s two athletes who were well-prepared and went in there laid everything on the line. You can’t ask for more from athletes, so I respect him and I’m confident that this is going to be a great fight as well.”
So how does one top an instant classic, especially when sequels are rarely able to recapture the magic of the first time out? It’s a valid question, but it’s also one neither Palomino nor Gaethje are fretting over as Sept. 18 approaches. The way they see things, their all-offense, all-the-time stylings are merely ingredients that are meant to be enjoyed; the rest will figure itself out.
“I don’t feel any type of pressure,” Palomino said. “I think that when you put a champion like Justin Gaethje, an explosive man like that, and an explosive man like me, with all the aggression in the cage, it doesn’t matter when or where, it’s going to be fireworks. It’s always going to be the best fight of the night and a candidate for ‘Fight of the Year.’ So there’s no pressure on my side at all.”
Gaethje agrees, and besides, he has a reputation to uphold. Being one of the lightweight division’s premier action fighters may come at a cost, but Gaethje is confident the results and the rewards will speak for themselves.
“As a young fighter, I looked up to guys like Luis who’ve been coming in there and putting it on the line, getting in there and going balls to the wall,” Gaethje said. “And you’ve got to respect that. You’ve got to respect that as an athlete. But I’m the best in the world at lightweight, and this camp right here has been the best preparation I’ve ever had.
“I fight one way, and that’s pressure. I put on unbelievable pressure and that was probably the first time Luis ever felt that kind of pressure. It throws them off. I’m coming the same way this time. Definitely, I’ll give Luis tons of credit, he hits like a train. But the only times I got hit were when I let him hit me and I was being lazy and backing up. So this time, I’ve really just been working on going forward and keeping good position and footwork.
“I’m more ready to finish Luis than I was last fight,” Gaethje added, “so I’m coming in and I’m going to finish it in the first.”