Fighting in three rounds at UFC 268 is a rarity for Justin Gaethje

Justin Gaethje answered an innocent question at UFC 268 media day where he almost spoke wrong.

“You have to be perfect for five …,” Gaethje said, pausing briefly to confirm that his brain was giving his mouth the correct information. “This is 15 minutes, usually the 25th.”

Had he slipped, it would have been understandable. While Gaethje (22-3, 5-3 UFC) is scheduled for a three-round match against Michael Chandler (22-6, 1-1 UFC) on Saturday at Madison Square Garden, five-round matches have been the standard in much of Gaethje’s career. The former UFC temporary lightweight champion has been scheduled for 25 minutes in all but one of his eight UFC fights, the last time nearly four years ago.

The Gaethje-Chandler match, which was a match between former World Series of Fighting and Bellator MMA champions, was expected to be the lead-in to Saturday’s title fights. On Wednesday, a UFC official said it will now launch the pay-per-view portion of the card to accommodate Gaethje’s coach, Trevor Wittman, who also takes Rose Namajunas and Kamaru Usman in turns in their championship defense later in the evening.

Gaethje has fought in major events in 11 of his last 12 matches, dating to 2015. Of his previous 14 matches, only two were scheduled for the shorter distance. One of them was originally a five-round WSOF title fight, but was shortened to a three-rounder as his opponent lost weight.

Despite this story, Gaethje said it was a natural fit for him and his camp to take this fight.

“Especially on a map of this magnitude here in Madison Square Garden, my two teammates, it makes perfect sense to all of us,” Gaethje told Newsday on Wednesday.

A three-lap may sound like less of a workload, but the shorter length adds its own complications. Gaethje said he needs a different mentality towards Chandler to ensure a positive result in the limited time.

“In five-round matches, you have no rounds to waste, but if you lose a round early, you always have a new round to come back and get it back,” Gaethje said. “In a three-round match, that’s not the case.”

This dynamic led him and his team to adjust his training prior to this matchup and focus more on fast bursts over long voyages.

“Shorter training and training with higher intensity,” Gaethje said of his adjustments. “Trying to sprint for 15 minutes as opposed to being able to, not necessarily a sprint for 25 minutes, but in a 25-minute match you really have to pick your matches when it comes to saving and wasting energy. Three rounds of fighting, every round is so important that you need to be able to sprint through it. “

One reason Gaethje is not worried about the shorter distance? His fights rarely last that long anyway.

The 32-year-old has yet to have a fight go to the judges of the UFC, and his seven five-round fights have only reached the extra frame on just two occasions – a fourth-round TKO loss to Dustin Poirier in 2018 and a TKO- victory in the fifth round over Tony Ferguson in May 2020.

“It’s complete chaos when I fight,” Gaethje said. “It’s the same as wrestling – the easiest way to get off the mat was to pin him. Now the easiest way to get out of a fight is to knock them out, so it’s first and foremost the goal every single time. “

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