Justin Gaethje realistic about how much time he has left in his career and getting out ‘at just the right moment’
Justin Gaethje realizes there’s far less time left in his career than what’s already behind him, but that doesn’t mean he’s looking to hang up his gloves anytime soon.
Those concerns were raised after Gaethje appeared to address retirement following a win over Rafael Fiziev in March. The veteran lightweight stated that he wanted to take “one more run at the title” and added that he wasn’t “going to be around much longer.”
Looking back at those comments, Gaethje admits emotions are always running high after a fight like that, so it’s probably better not to take him at his word — although he also understands the reality of how much time he has left in the game.
“It’s just the fact of the matter that I would say, by 37, I would like to not be doing this anymore,” Gaethje told MMA Fighting. “I’m 34 now. Two or three years is a long time, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not that long. I’ve been doing this for 12 or  years, so ultimately it’s the back end of my career in this sport. That’s just the train of thought that I had.
“We’re so emotional after these fights that I wouldn’t believe anything that we say for a week. It was just my thought process after. I’m not going to be here forever. I’m glad that you guys are here to enjoy this with me. I was really talking to the fans in that moment.”
Right now, Gaethje is gearing up for a showdown against Dustin Poirier in the main event of UFC 291. The lightweights are set to battle it out in a rematch after their Fight of the Year war in their first encounter back in 2018, which Poirier won via fourth-round TKO.
A win over Poirier could earn Gaethje another crack at the UFC title, but the outcome in those fights won’t necessarily determine when he’ll decide to retire.
According to Gaethje, that kind of decision really comes down to timing, especially when he’s comparing himself to other elite athletes competing at the top of the UFC.
“I’ve been a huge fan of this sport. I’ve followed so many of the athletes and I’ve seen examples of people fighting too long, people quitting too early, people stopping at just the right moment,” Gaethje explained. “I’d like to fall in that ‘just the right moment’ situation.
“I would say as soon as I believe I can’t be the best in the world with the skills that I possess, I don’t see any reason to go in there and risk what we’re risking each and every fight.”
While every fighter technically faces the same risks in the UFC, it’s easy to argue that Gaethje’s non-stop style lends itself to more potential harm than the average competitor.
He considers himself the most exciting fighter in the history of the sport, and with 11 career post-fight bonuses including seven Fight of the Night awards — and three Fights of the Years mixed in there — Gaethje doesn’t need to argue very hard to back up that statement.
Those kinds of performances also result in a lot of damage being done to his body, and Gaethje will never ignore his long-term health — even if that’s not a factor he actually considers when setting foot in the octagon.
“I’m human,” Gaethje said. “The older you get, the wiser you get. The wiser you get, the more you understand that nothing is for sure, tomorrow’s not promised. So yeah, you start to think about these things more, but ultimately I think that’s not a concern of mine.
“It doesn’t play a factor when I go in there. I’d like to be healthy, but I know the risk involved and I have to be content with the situation that I’ve put myself in. Once I’m able to be content there, I’m able to live a little bit more free, I guess.”