With a potential title shot on the line, Justin Gaethje knew he had to do something special to ensure he would get the winner of the upcoming fight between UFC lightweight champion Charles Oliveira and Dustin Poirier.
The always-exciting human highlight reel exceeded all expectations by delivering a possible Fight of the Year performance with a three-round war against Michael Chandler at UFC 268, which was exactly what he wanted in order to eliminate any obstacles standing in his way.
“This was an opportunity to take some control of the situation,” Gaethje said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “A regular win would not have done that but there is no such thing as a regular win for me. There’s only one way I win and that’s in spectacular fashion. I’m so happy, I went out there and took control of the situation and now I put the UFC in a spot where they would have to challenge the integrity of the sport to go any other way.
“That’s all I can do. That’s all I can control. Cause if that happens, you guys, the media, the fans, they’ve got to do what they’ve got to do and question the integrity. That was my job. That’s what I did and now I had to dare them to challenge it and I think I accomplished that.”
Assuming he has earned the title shot, Gaethje will be watching UFC 269 with anticipation that he will face the winner from the main event as Oliveira attempts the first defense of his title against Poirier, who many have called the uncrowned champion in the division.
Gaethje already has plenty of history with Poirier after falling to him back in 2018 in a blistering back-and-forth battle that earned them Fight of the Year honors.
A rematch would almost certainly be one of the most highly anticipated fights of all-time, but Gaethje isn’t sold that Poirier would actually want to run it back with him, especially after the amount of damage he absorbed in a victory the last time around.
“I hope Oliveira wins,” Gaethje said. “A part of me thinks — after I fought Dustin Poirier, I went outside and I took 100, 200 pictures and I felt great, not one thought or emotion from that fight am I scared to experience again. I know for a fact when Dustin Poirier has to step in there with me again, he’s going to remember and constantly be analyzing that night. He was not out taking pictures. He was probably in the most pain of his f*cking life.
“If he doesn’t land the shot in the first round, he knows he’s going to have to go through that again. If he beats Charles Oliveira, I don’t know if he fights me. I think he just walks away, calls it good. So I kind of hope Charles Oliveira wins so I get to fight him March, April, May. If Dustin Poirier wins, I’m going to have to really entice him to f*cking get in there again.”
With a resume that rivals anybody in the history of the lightweight division, Poirier has never backed down from a challenge but Gaethje knows that signing to a fight against him requires a completely different kind of mentality than the average opponent.
He knows Poirier hasn’t forgotten what it was like to face him the last time around and Gaethje promises to do even worse in a rematch.
Add to that, Gaethje considers the loss to Poirier as a turning point in his career as he made a multitude of changes in the way he approaches his fights now, which has resulted in more dominant performances including four knockouts in his past five wins.
“Now he gets to fight a more refined and a more sophisticated psychopath,” Gaethje said when describing his improvements since losing to Poirier the first time. “I think a rematch would be a completely different instance in time. I think the previous fight would have zero factors on what would occur on that night. I think it would be a fresh experience and I think it would be again, a battle for the ages.
“But again, I don’t know if I can get the dog from him anymore. If he steps in there, I know for a fact the dog’s coming but I don’t know if I can get him to step in there. In my heart of hearts, that’s what I truly believe.”
If Poirier is successful in his bid to become champion in December, and he actually retires afterwards, Gaethje promises that wouldn’t bother him all that much.
While he would love to avenge a past loss, Gaethje’s only goal right now is becoming champion and it doesn’t matter to him whether he goes through Poirier, Oliveira or somebody else.
“That’s not a concern,” Gaethje said. “It doesn’t affect me one way or another. Either way, if that happens, I still get to fight for the belt. It doesn’t matter who.”
Setting Poirier aside, Gaethje is equally intrigued by what would happen in a fight against Oliveira, who he has criticized in the past for being a “quitter” when times got tough in some of his past performances.
Of course, Oliveira has vehemently disagreed with that assessment after he’s rattled off nine straight wins including a comeback victory over Chandler to claim the lightweight title back in May.
“I am so interested in that fight,” Gaethje said about Oliveira. “I will never take back what I’ve said about him until he gets in there and does what Michael Chandler does and f*cking proves me wrong. There is no dog bigger or meaner than me in that cage.
“His skills are f*cking phenomenal but there’s no dog in that man. I will constantly and consistently say that and when I get a chance, I know for a fact that I will show everybody that.”
With the lightweight title fight just four weeks away, Gaethje will hopefully find out his next opponent as soon as UFC 269 ends but he’s not leaning one way or another when it comes to who walks away as champion.
As long as he’s involved when the title goes up for grabs again in 2022, Gaethje will be satisfied.
“That’s it. That’s all that matters,” Gaethje said. “Charles, Dustin, does not matter. They’re both so intriguing. They both fire me up. Believe me, I’ll be waking up, fired up, working until then.”