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Morning Report: Justin Gaethje on ending the Khabib Nurmagomedov-Tony Ferguson saga: ‘I’m going to be very happy to royally screw that up’

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The last few weeks have been a journey for Justin Gaethje. First, when lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov was forced out of UFC 249 due to travel complications caused by the coronavirus, Gaethje was tapped to replace the champion on just a couple weeks’ notice for an interim title fight against Tony Ferguson. Then, despite every effort from the UFC to continue with the fight card amid a global pandemic, cooler heads eventually prevailed and UFC 249 was postponed, leaving Gaethje once again without a fight. That too was short-lived though as just a few days later, UFC President Dana White announced that the UFC would open things back up again on May 9th, and the interim lightweight title fight was back on. It’s a situation that Gaethje admits has been difficult to deal with, but now with his shot at an UFC title back in the crosshairs, “The Highlight” is focused on being optimistic.

“Emotionally, as a fighter, it’s very hard to cope with because it’s hard to turn it on and it’s hard to turn it off,” Gaethje told ESPN recently. “So I was really caught in a weird predicament. I’m glad it was only three or four days after they canceled it where the re-announced it. . . It was tough. I kind of definitely let my foot off the gas for three days but ultimately it helped me because when I got the call, I went fourteen days straight. I didn’t take a day off, so I was really feeling beat down. So those three days really helped me. Ultimately, I’m not gonna get my training camp but I’m gonna get more time so I’ve got to be thankful for that.”

It wasn’t just the uncertainty of the fight that was difficult for Gaethje though. The fourth-ranked lightweight contender said that things were not made easier by the UFC, who failed to effectively communicate with him through the process. Gaethje revealed that instead of hearing about the fights cancellation or being consulted about moving the card to May 9th, both times he found out about it on the internet, and the UFC just assumed he would be okay with it.

“Same way I found out it was off: on the internet,” Gaethje said when asked how he was informed about the May 9th card. “I saw that Dana had said that he was having this card May 9th and that I was the main event and I was like, ‘What the hell?!’ To be honest, I was a little bit upset because I’ve always told them I don’t want to fight on short training camps and I don’t blame them, but they had the assumption that because I was going to fight on April 18th I would do it on May 9th, but those are totally different circumstances for me. So I really wasn’t happy about it, but you go back to the drawing board and risk versus reward, for a world title you can fight on a day’s notice.”

To be clear though, Gaethje doesn’t actually believe he’ll be fighting for a world title on May 9th, he thinks he’ll be fighting for a shot at the world title. Even though interim champions in the UFC are considered champions, Gaethje himself doesn’t put much stock in the titles, viewing it as a placeholder for where he intends to go: UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.

“When they wrap that belt around me, it won’t be a destination, it will be a map, a map to the top,” Gaethje said. “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 be the same. It will never mean that I’m a world champion in the UFC. But yes, absolutely, when I beat Tony, I’m fighting Khabib next. That’s what I’m here for. I’m trying to be the best in the world. And when I fight him I want him to try to kill me because I won’t respect him if he doesn’t.”

Gaethje has been wanting a fight against Nurmagomedov for some time, viewing himself as one of the most difficult style matchups in the division for the undefeated champion. And if he beats Ferguson on May 9th, he will essentially be guaranteed that fight later this year. But if Gaethje beats Tony Ferguson on May 9th he may do more than just that, he might also finally end the long and sordid saga of a Khabib vs. Ferguson fight, one that has tormented the MMA world for years. Khabib vs. Tony has now been booked five times and yet to come to fruition, and if Gaethje beats Ferguson in their upcoming bout and ruins that fight forever, well, he won’t lose any sleep over it.

“As a fan, I want to see that fight just as much as anybody, Gaethje said. “But to put food on my table. . . I really don’t care about that. I will feel a little bad because I know how bad people want it but for me to act like it will bother me, that would be a lie. I’m going to be very happy to royally screw that up.”


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Unused Gaethje quote: “Back in the day, when someone raided your village, you didn’t ask for a time out and ask for some time. You had to go, you had to fight, and you had to protect your family. Right now I’m protecting everything I’ve ever worked for, 27 years of hard work. You can take it from me, but I promise you, you’re going to go through hell.”

Justin Gaethje is the man.

Thanks for reading and see y’all tomorrow.



If Gaejthe does beat Tony, will Tony and Khabib ever fight?

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    Yes, they will fight.
    (228 votes)
  • 51%
    No, they will not fight.
    (499 votes)
  • 25%
    Even if Tony wins, he and Khabib will still never fight.
    (244 votes)
971 votes total Vote Now

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