Friday, January 28, 2022

What A Win At UFC Lincoln Does For Justin Gaethje & James Vick

Justin Gaethje & James Vick will collide at UFC Lincoln. Adam Martin takes a look at what a win does for both fighters.

This weekend, two of the top lightweights in the sport meet for 25 minutes or less when Justin Gaethje takes on James Vick in a grudge match that serves as the main event of UFC Fight Night 135, which takes place this Saturday at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska. Gaethje was originally set to fight Al Iaquinta but Vick filled in on relatively short notice to take his first UFC main event and try to beat Gaethje and take his spot in the UFC’s lightweight rankings. Gaethje and Vick are two extremely exciting fighters and the UFC has put together a great matchup for its debut event in Lincoln.

Though it isn’t a title fight, or even a No. 1 contender’s bout in the UFC lightweight division, this is still a very important fight for both men. Below, I’ll discuss what a win for each man does for them going forward.

What A Win For Justin Gaethje Does

Gaethje entered the UFC with all sorts of fanfare as the former WSOF lightweight champion and he did not disappoint in his debut last summer when he knocked out Michael Johnson in a 2017 “Fight of the Year” contender. The win over Johnson was a great showcase for Gaethje as he exhibited his two finest talents in that fight: taking punishment and giving it back. After beating Johnson, the UFC matched up Gaethje with former UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez in a hugely-important fight for both men. After a back-and-forth war that lasted until the third round, eventually Gaethje took too much punishment and Alvarez handed him his first career defeat via brutal TKO. Losing to Alvarez isn’t the worst thing in the world, though, and the loss didn’t really knock Gaethje down the ladder too much. However, his next fight against Dustin Poirier saw the same result as Gaethje was once again brutally knocked out, and he’s now lost two straight fights on paper. Yes, all three of Gaethje’s UFC bouts have won “Fight of the Night” and that’s great for his bank account, but he has to start winning fights if he wants to remain in the title picture.

Originally, Gaethje was set to fight Iaquinta and a win there for him would have been huge as Iaquinta just fought Khabib Nurmagomedov for the title. Vick isn’t as big of a name, but he is on a win streak and he is a ranked fighter. If anything, it’s a risky fight for Gaethje to take as Vick is a dangerous guy who is ranked lower than him, but he really needs to get a win at this point. A win will keep Gaethje firmly intact in the UFC lightweight division’s top-10 and will likely land him another main event in his next bout as he’s guaranteed excitement. A loss, though, would mean the dreaded three-fight losing streak for Gaethje and while him getting released doesn’t make sense since he’s exciting win-or-lose, a loss could bump him way down in the rankings and push him as far away from the title picture as possible. There’s no shame in losing to proven fighters like Alvarez and Poirier, but Gaethje has to beat Vick if he wants to remain a top contender.

What A Win For James Vick Does

This fight is arguably bigger for Vick as it presents him his first opportunity to fight a top-10 fighter in the lightweight division. So far Vick has put together an impressive 9-1 record in the UFC with his lone career loss to Beneil Dariush. Since that loss in 2016, Vick has won four straight fights and in his last bout he defeated Francisco Trinaldo to steal his spot in the rankings. He has been clamoring for a fight against a top-10 opponent for a while now, and finally the UFC is giving him the chance to get it, albeit on somewhat short notice. But it’s a risk that Vick has to take as this fight with Gaethje represents his best chance to jump into the top-10. Honestly, it’s hard to say how good Vick is because he’s mostly beaten second-tier fighters and lost to Dariush, whose own career is currently on the fritz. So he needs this fight with Gaethje to show everyone that he is indeed the top-10 lightweight that he says he is. And he needs to go out there and get an impressive win. If he wins, Vick could be in line for a top-five opponent in his next fight. It’s just a huge fight for him at this point of his career, and he needs to get the W.

The UFC has put together a terrific matchup here between two of the top lightweights in the sport and now it’s up to both men to go out there and win. The stakes are high for both guys, now let’s see how they handle the pressure.

Who needs a win more, Justin Gaethje or James Vick?

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