Justin Gaethje believes he’s earned his third crack at UFC lightweight gold.
UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev successfully defended his title for the second time against the featherweight title holder Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 294 this past Saturday. This time finishing “The Great” with a first-round head kick and punches combination, Makhachev is now expected to rematch his original opponent for the card, the former champion Charles Oliveira.
The division has been sorting itself out throughout the summer, which saw Oliveira earn a big rebound win over fellow top contender Beneil Dariush. One month later in July, Gaethje rematched Dustin Poirier with the BMF title on the line. “The Highlight” evened their score at one apiece against “The Diamond” after their April 2018 encounter saw him fall short by strikes in round four, and he stopped Poirier in the second round with a head kick. The win got Gaethje back on a winning streak after he previously earned a majority decision win over Rafael Fiziev in March. Despite likely having to wait behind Oliveira before another title shot, Gaethje sees no other option but to wait it out.
“Who do I fight?” Gaethje told ESPN. “There’s no one. I did what I had to do. … I don’t know what else I need to do.
“If they want to put Oliveira in there, then I fight him in September [or next October]. I have no issues waiting. Again, as I get older I get to understand from now until the time I’m gonna fight him I’m gonna be building strength, I’m gonna be working on my cardio, I’m gonna be refining my skills. So, I’ll take as much time as they give me, and I’ll be that much more ready.”
A very fan-friendly option has presented itself this week with the former featherweight champion Max Holloway chiming in and expressing his interest in dueling Gaethje. As great as everyone knows that pairing would be, the 34-year-old BMF isn’t too interested for a rather generous reason.
“I already beat up [Michael] Chandler, so he’s not there. Or else that would be one,” Gaethje said. “I would say Holloway, but I don’t ever want to fight Holloway so… I don’t know. I just don’t ever — I don’t want to punch him.
“I just don’t — it’s not necessary. I like him too much. I like him. He’s a good dude. I don’t know him personally, but I’m a fan of his. Yeah, I don’t prefer to punch him, but if I have to, I would, I guess. I expect no mercy in there and I give none so whoever fights me, it is what it is but I don’t prefer it.”
In the end, a Gaethje fight against Makhachev would be full circle in a way. The former World Series of Fighting king achieved his first shot at UFC gold in October 2020 when the reigning undefeated 28-0 champion Khabib Nurmagomedov was on top of the world. Gaethje lost via a second-round triangle choke, making Nurmagomedov 29-0 as he proceeded to call it a career. Therefore, Gaethje was left without any future possibility to get a win back.
Makhachev would be the next best thing for Gaethje, as the current champion remains a pupil and teammate of the retired “Eagle.” We know what they say, the third is the charm, after all. “
I think he’s out here copying my moves,” Gaethje said of Makhachev and his head kick win over Volkanovski. “He’s obviously watching me, so, yeah. It’s good, man. I’m excited to fight him. Before the [Volkanovski] fight, I said he wasn’t Khabib, but I guess I’m just gonna have to f*** around and find out because I’m not sure.”