After flatlining his past three opponents in a row, the former World Series of Fighting Champion is seeking to add a UFC title to his collection but he knows the chances of him getting the winner of the upcoming fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson are slim.
So rather than play the long odds that he’ll just sit and wait for a title fight, Gaethje is ready to earn it. With all of other top ranked lightweights already matched up, Gaethje just doesn’t see another option available to him that makes as much sense as fighting McGregor this summer with the winner moving onto compete for the title.
“I think I have to look at the big picture whenever I think about it,” Gaethje explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “I think me waiting to fight the winner of Khabib-Tony isn’t realistic. I think I will have to fight again.
“I think me and Conor need to fight each other to figure out the No. 1 contender. Outside of that, if I need to fight someone else to assure myself of the No. 1 contender’s spot and get the winner of that fight, I’ll do that. As long as that’s a sure thing.”
Following a knockout over Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone back in January, UFC president Dana White said McGregor was likely next in line to face the winner of Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson.
The problem with that scenario is McGregor was dominated by Nurmagomedov in their first meeting in 2018 and his only fight since then was the win over Cerrone at welterweight. Meanwhile, Gaethje has demolished Cerrone, Edson Barboza and James Vick in consecutive fights while earning a ridiculous a post-fight performance bonus for every single performance he’s had in the UFC.
Even with a win over Ferguson at UFC 249, Nurmagomedov is also not expected to fight again until the late summer or early fall as he prepares to observe Ramadan from the end of April through most of May. That means McGregor would be looking at another lengthy layoff after already sitting out for over a year following his loss to the undefeated Russian at UFC 229.
In the meantime, Gaethje believes McGregor could silence all the doubters who don’t believe he actually deserves a second shot at Nurmagomedov by attempting to go through him.
“You know it’s his choice,” Gaethje said. “[Conor McGregor] picks who he fights.
“He knows that if he fights me and beats me, nobody — Khabib [Nurmagomedov], Ali [Abdelaziz], whoever — can’t say much about him earning it or deserving the title shot. But until then, he ain’t going to get it.”
According to Gaethje, he’s got no personal grudge to settle with McGregor but rather he doesn’t like the idea that the former two-division champion could just usurp the rest of the contenders in the division when it comes to a title shot.
That’s why he feels it’s only right to face McGregor next and allow their fight to determine who gets the winner of Nurmagomedov and Ferguson.
“I haven’t necessarily wanted to fight this guy for a while,” Gaethje explained. “He said he was going to fight me last year and I was coming off two losses and I was making my way back up the ranks. That was what I was doing.
“Now I’m in a great position to fight for a title and I have him saying he wants to jump ahead. Now I want to fight him cause it’s the right time. It’s the right fight to make.”
When it comes to McGregor and UFC matchmaking, there’s no way to predict how things will play out.
Because he’s the biggest draw in the sport by a wide margin, McGregor maintains more power and control over who he fights and when he fights than any other athlete on the UFC roster.
Still given the current climate of the lightweight division and the upcoming fight between Nurmagomedov and Ferguson scheduled for April 18, Gaethje thinks the odds are in his favor that McGregor will be next for him.
“I think the chances are pretty good,” Gaethje said. “I think they’re really good. What’s crazy, whenever [Owen] Roddy did that interview, I don’t know what I was doing, I think I was golfing or something and someone told me to look on the internet and it was everywhere. It’s cool.”
Then again if McGregor scoffs at the matchup or chooses to fight someone else like Nate Diaz first, Gaethje won’t be losing any sleep over it.
“So much logistics when it comes to making a fight with that guy,” Gaethje said. “It’s a process. If he doesn’t make a choice, I just wait and fight Khabib.”