Justin Gaethje isn’t one to take short notice fights, but he made an exception for a shot at UFC gold.
Gaethje (21-2 MMA, 4-2 UFC) faces Tony Ferguson for the interim lightweight title at UFC 249. With a win would come an opportunity to face the division’s undefeated champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov.
The way Gaethje sees it, a win over Ferguson (25-3 MMA, 15-1 UFC) on the May 9 card (which does not have an official location) is a one-way ticket to Nurmagomedov (28-0 MMA, 12-0 UFC). The interim strap is merely a receipt, because Gaethje consider himself the true UFC champion until he dethrones “The Eagle.”
“When they wrap that belt around me, it won’t be a destination, it will be a map – a map to the top,” Gaethje told ESPN. “That’s how I’m looking at it. It will be nice to have a belt wrapped around you, but for me, it won’t mean the same. It won’t mean that I’m a world champion in the UFC.
“When I beat Tony, I’m fighting Khabib next because that’s what I’m here for. I’m here to try and be the best in the world and when I fight him, I want him to try and kill me because I won’t respect him if he doesn’t.”
If Gaethje beats Ferguson, he would be the roadblock and spoiler to arguably the most highly-anticipated bout in UFC history – a fight between Nurmagomedov and Ferguson.
That fight has fallen through five times already, and Gaethje said he’d happily derail that matchup and extend Ferguson’s wait to face Nurmagomedov a little longer.
“I want to see that fight just as much as anybody, but to put food on my table, I have to go,” Gaethje said. “I really don’t care about that. I will feel a little bit bad because I know how bad people want it, but for me to act like it’ll bother me, that would be a lie. I’ll be very happy to royally screw that up.”