Safford native Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje signs with UFC

Safford native Justin "The Highlight" Gaethje - Contributed Photo

By Jon Johnson

DENVER – The already stacked lightweight division in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) just got a little bigger as it has added World Series of Fighting (WSOF) Lightweight Champion Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje, 28, to its ranks.

Gaethje, a Safford native and former all-state wrestler for the Safford Bulldogs, called out the UFC fighters with a Tweet on Wednesday night.

“@ufc Lets C one of the “big league boys” put me to sleep. I want the scariest lightweight possible first. This 0 has got to go! Contract signed” Gaethje Tweeted at 10:48 p.m. on May 3.

Gaethje, who was also an All-American wrestler at the University of Northern Colorado, is unbeaten in his MMA career, which has spanned nearly six years. He left the WSOF as that organization’s only 155-pound champion and with a 17-0 MMA record.

He made his 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.

In addition to his Tweet, Gaethje also announced his signing with an Instagram post Thursday thanking his family and supporters.

While the top echelon of lightweight fighters in the UFC is a packed one, current 155-pound champion Connor McGregor appears more enamored with a chance to fight retired boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr., which means an interim title may be up for grabs and Gaethje, as a champion himself, may be positioned to make some waves.