UFC 291: Justin Gaethje was already a 'BMF,' but wants the 'iconic' title for his legacy

Justin Gaethje was a "BMF" on the first day he walked into a cage to spar in mixed martial arts. He was a dynamo from the beginning, a fast, strong whirlwind who hit like he was wearing brass knuckles and was willing to absorb insane amounts of punishment in order to dish out his own brand of violence.

Fighting that way day after day, fight after fight, year after year, will earn one a reputation. He didn't need Nate Diaz to come up with the idea for a belt that identified who the UFC's "baddest mother f***er" is because he always had been a BMF.

Diaz and Jorge Masvidal met at Madison Square Garden at UFC 244 in New York on Nov. 2, 2019, for what became known as "The BMF" belt. Masvidal won it after the referee stopped the bout because of cuts around Diaz's face. Actor and wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson presented Masvidal with the belt with then-President Donald Trump seated cageside.

It was supposed to be a one-and-done bout, but sitting in a matchmaking meet one day, UFC president Dana White and his staff began mulling over ideas for a bout. Someone came up with the idea for a rematch between Gaethje and Dustin Poirier. It was a no-brainer, since both are among the elite lightweights in the world and they staged an incredible match on April 4, 2018, in Glendale, Arizona.

But then the idea of making it for the BMF title came up. And even though it was supposed to be a one-off title fight, White loved the idea.

"Who could possibly say they have a problem with these two guys fighting for that belt?" White said to Yahoo Sports.

Saturday's fight at UFC 291 in Salt Lake City is so good that it stands on its own and doesn't need a title to support it, but the fighters themselves like the idea.

"I wouldn't feel like the world champion, but this is something special," Gaethje told Yahoo Sports. "It's an iconic title. Only two people in the world have fought for it. We'll be the second two fighting for it, so it's iconic and I think it does something for the legacy. I think it's great."

Gaethje's earned the nickname "The Human Highlight" for his incredible exploits in MMA. He's gone 7-4 in his 11 UFC fights to raise his overall MMA record to 24-4. In the UFC, he's won Fight of the Night six times and Performance of the Night four times.

His bouts are always edge-of-the-seat thrillers.

But Gaethje has been trying to be a bit less entertaining. Going full berserker mode helps create a massive fan base, which Gaethje has done. But it also opens him up to more damage, which can shorten a career and has led to some losses.

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 14:  (L-R) Justin Gaethje punches Dustin Poirier in their lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at the Gila Rivera Arena on April 14, 2018 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Justin Gaethje (L), shown landing a left hand on Dustin Poirier in 2018, will face Poirier in a rematch Saturday for the UFC's BMF title in the main event of UFC 291 in Salt Lake City. (Josh Hedges/Getty Images) (Josh Hedges via Getty Images)

He won the interim lightweight title when he fought a disciplined fight against Tony Ferguson on May 9, 2020, in Jacksonville, Florida, in the main event of UFC 249. And though it may not look that way to some, he's pretty much tried to keep that style ever since.

He's learned a lesson and said his fight with Poirier will be entertaining, but he won't allow himself to take unnecessary risks.

"My best performances were against Tony Ferguson, Michael Chandler and in my last fight against [Rafael] Fiziev," Gaethje said. "In all of them, I fought a tactical fight and I really have to trust in that process. My coaches have worked hard to instill that in me over the last two or so years, and when I fight that way is when I'm at my best."

He said he thought his win over Fiziev was probably his best performance, though he couldn't help but put up the Ferguson and Chandler fights next to them. Yahoo Sports named his fight with Chandler the 2021 MMA Fight of the Year.

There never has been such a thing as a boring Justin Gaethje fight, but he believes he's found a sweet spot now. He looks at the way he's fought in some other matches and it's left him shaking his head.

He lost Fight of the Night battles to Eddie Alvarez at UFC 218 and Poirier in back-to-back bouts by not fighting under control.

"If you take how I fought Fiziev, and, of course, Ferguson and Chandler, as well, there's such a difference in the way I approached those fights than there was the way I fought Poirier the first time and Eddie Alvarez and Michael Johnson," Gaethje said. "I had such a different feeling when I was in there against [Ferguson, Chandler and Fiziev] than there was in those other fights.

"The [first] Poirier fight was, at the time, my longest fight. And at that point of my career, I was just an absolute berserker. I knew his leg was compromised [after three rounds]. I felt I needed to go out and kick his leg a couple of more times, but fighting these guys at this level, you cannot be narrow-minded like that."

The gist of it for Gaethje is, fight a little smarter and not only will he continue to be viewed as a BMF, but he'll add the "BMF" title to boot.