Safford native Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje hopes to have a victory flip Saturday night in the octagon in Glendale.
Lopez to take on Alejandro Perez in the preliminary card
By Jon Johnson
GLENDALE – Safford native Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje returns to Arizona to face Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier in a 155-pound matchup of exciting fighters that is sure to be entertaining.
No. 6 Gaethje (18-1 MMA, 1-1 UFC) will face Poirier (22-5 MMA, 14-4 UFC) in the headline match, while Safford native Matthew Lopez (10-2 MMA, 2-2 UFC) will take on Alejandro Perez (19-6-1 MMA 5-1-1 UFC) in an undercard match at the Gila River Arena in Glendale. The action starts on Fox at 5 p.m. Pacific time.
Gaethje, the former World Series of Fighting Champion, has had two fights in the UFC, one win and one loss, and both of them were voted as Fight of the Night with his victory over Michael Johnson earning him Performance of the Night.
Gaethje is a former all-state wrestler for the Safford Bulldogs and gained All-American status as a wrestler for the University of Northern Colorado.
He made his MMA debut Aug. 20, 2011, with a knockout slam against Kevin Croom and amassed a 7-0 amateur record. He signed with the WSOF on Jan. 22, 2013, and quickly rose to become its inaugural lightweight champion with a first-round knockout of Richard Patishnock in January 2014. Gaethje then successfully defended his title five times, as well as a non-title defense because his open didn’t make weight and finished with a 10-0 record.
After dispatching Johnson in Las Vegas, Gaethje put himself in position to take on the greatest fighters in the world and just came up short in his next fight against Eddie Alvarez, where a lucky knee felled him.
Poirier comes in as the slight favorite, but Gaethje is sure to have the hometown support behind him. While both men are 29, Poirier has the longer UFC tenure and has said he doesn’t think Gaethje will be long for the sport fighting the way he does. Poirier is 6-1 since losing to Conor McGregor in 2014 and had a no-decision against Eddie Alvarez that was stopped for illegal knees. Alvarez handed Gaethje the only loss of his career in his last fight with about one minute left in the contest when a knee found its home squarely on Gaethje’s chin.
On UFC’s “Road to the Octagon” special, Gaethje said he would continue to press forward with his violent style of fighting.
“The game plan is the same – as fast as possible, as brutally as possible, as violently as possible,” Gaethje said. “I want to get paid and that’s how you get paid in this sport.”
Lopez also looks to bounce back after losing to Raphael Assuncao by knockout in the third round.
Lopez grew up in Safford and then moved to Tucson for high school, where he was a four-time state champion wrestler with the Sunnyside Blue Devils. Lopez was also the national high school champion in freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling.
After high school, Lopez continued wrestling for Cal State Fullerton in college. His formerly fought out of Lake Forest, Calif., but relocated to Denver and now trains with Gaethje in Colorado.