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Justin Gaethje rips ref Mike Beltran, says UFC 268 call could have cost him $1 million

UFC 268: Gaethje v Chandler Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

UFC lightweight Justin Gaethje feels like a “genius” after his win over Michael Chandler at UFC 268, but he is “f*cking absolutely astonished” when he thinks about how close he came to losing over a referee’s call.

Gaethje on Wednesday blasted Mike Beltran for his handling of Michael Chandler’s accidental foul in the second round of the “Fight of the Year” candidate, saying the veteran official jeopardized his win by indecisively stopping the action and not giving him enough time to recuperate.

“I hate to critique the guy – he’s human, and we make mistakes,” Gaethje said on the Anik and Florian podcast. “I just think that ... pretty much every ref that I step out there with has a look in their eyes, and it’s a look like they’re shook, like they’re intimidated by what just occurred.

“I understand that, but this is real life. I need them to be in game mode. We’re not dealing with seconds anymore. This is way less than seconds. if you’re going to break action, you’ve got to put your body in there. If you’re going to get hit, that needs to be OK.”

Beltran declined comment when contacted by MMA Fighting.

Chandler landed a hard right hand in between the time when Gaethje indicated he’d been fouled and Beltran stepped in between them. By not being more decisive, Gaethje said, it jeopardized his chance of winning.

“That was a big punch,” he said. “What if that would have knocked me out? Those can change the whole direction of a fight. It’s just crazy to me that it wasn’t a big issue, because for me it was a huge issue. That’s $1 million, if I lose, that’s so much money off of my table.”

Once Beltran did stop the action, Gaethje said Beltran behaved as though he hadn’t been fouled, asking him if he was good to continue. When Gaethje responded that he wasn’t and that he’d been poked in the eye, Beltran asked him again if he was OK to continue.

“So in my mind, I think he’s referencing the punch that just occurred,” Gaethje said. “And so, I’m like, yeah, I’m good, because as a fighter, you never say you’re not good to continue. So then he was like, ‘OK, fight.’ I was like, ‘No, I need my time. He poked me in the eye.’ And he looks directly at me and he says, ‘You said you’re good, fight.’ And he never looked at my eye. He didn’t even take one second to see if I was affected.”

Gaethje said it was “irrelevant” whether or not Beltran saw the foul because he’d already stopped the action and needed to follow procedures for a fouled fighter. In the unified rules of MMA, when a fighter is fouled, the referee is supposed to call time, check the fouled fighters condition and safety and assess the foul for potential point(s) deductions and/or time considerations.

With replay in use at UFC 268, Gaethje said Beltran was perfectly capable of seeing what happened and taking the proper steps to make sure he was OK to continue.

“I just can’t understand how it happened, why it happened, or what the f*ck happened,” Gaethje said.

In the end, Gaethje won the bout via unanimous decision in a fight considered by many to be an instant classic. The eye injury he suffered wasn’t permanent; he felt a “ton of pressure in my eye” but no lasting effects. But there was another sour note afterward after he said Beltran approached him backstage.

“This is why I’m more upset about it is because he tried to justify it,” Gaethje said. “If you would have just accepted that, he f*cked up, then at least I have a picture of why it happened and how it will never happened again. We need to learn from that.”

It’s not the first time Gaethje has taken issue with MMA referees. He blasted veteran official Jerin Valel’s handling of his stoppage win over Donald Cerrone at a 2019 UFC event.

Check out Gaethje’s full interview.