Gaethje is probably the most attention-worthy fighter in the World Series of Fighting. He's a lightweight champion, a young face without the "ex-UFC" tag, and a hyper-violent power puncher whose 16-0 record has come with as little regard for his own face as for his opponent’s wellbeing. Last weekend at WSOF 29, he finished Brian Foster with brutal leg kicks in the first round, presumably to the chagrin of martial arts oracle Cecil Peoples. And if the maelstrom that surrounds Gaethje whenever he goes to work transfixes you, you could be forgiven if you didn’t realize that backflips off the cage are kind of his thing, to the chagrin of the Colorado State Boxing Commission.
Yesterday, according to The MMA Report, the commission gave Gaethje an indefinite suspension for unsportsmanlike conduct for doing exactly that after his victory over Foster. While other fighters received months-long suspensions for orthopedic and cosmetic injuries, a winning and virtually unscathed fighter gets an interminable layoff for disobeying the commission's wishes: apparently, Gaethje defied a written warning against jumping on the cage that the Colorado commission gave him sometime before the fight.
It's strange that the Colorado commission singled out Gaethje for punishment when there's such a long tradition of fighters climbing on the cage in triumph, sometimes before the fight's actually over and before they've actually won. Similarly, backflips have become ordinary spectacles, a kind of acrobatic argument a freak athlete makes to convince judges that he still has a lot left in the tank and deserves to win a decision by virtue of being the more amazing human. We've also seen the risks that they pose: at Bellator 143 in September, Darrion Caldwell knocked down a camerawoman with a celebratory backflip God forbid you try to pull one off while holding nunchucks.
It's not only strange that Colorado singled out Gaethje: it's silly. The suspension was clearly symbolic of the commission's ire and not the seriousness of Gaethje's infraction; in its magnitude, it was equivalent to threatening jail time and a hundred-thousand-dollar fine for writing graffiti in an alley. Word of Gaethje's sentence spread fast, and since fight fans love nothing more than a reason for righteous indignation, by the end of the day there was a FreeJustinGaethje hashtag and everything. Maybe, with just two more fights to go before he can test his value as a free agent, this quasi-controversy will prove a blessing in boosting Gaethje's profile in a way that translates to greater contractual worth.
It appears that it won't have lasting negative consequences for his career. Late last night, Gaethje said that he expects to be taken off the suspension list today. "The commission just wanted to tell me not to do it again in Colorado," he added.
The key phrase is "in Colorado."
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