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Justin Gaethje targeting 2023 return, believes he’s 2 or 3 wins away from next UFC title shot

Justin Gaethje plans to return to the UFC’s octagon in the first quarter of 2023 after having successful — and much-needed — surgery on his nose.

During the 2022 UFC Hall of Fame red carpet in July, Gaethje told members of the media he was heading to surgery to repair his damaged nose following his first-round stoppage loss to Charles Oliveira at UFC 274. For “The Highlight,” it wasn’t just about improving his life as a fighter and professional athlete, but as a regular human being as well.

“It’s great, it was 13 years with no nose,” Gaethje told MMA Fighting. “I’ve had two of my senses pretty much broken and fixed — my eyes and my nose — and I don’t know which one is better. I can’t imagine not being able to see, and being able to see 20-20 is something special, but being able to anticipate your food, sleep, and really just live how we’re supposed to — having two methods of oxygen intake — is something I’m really enjoying right now.

“Whenever this happened, it was in college, in the middle of a wrestling season, I was cutting weight, and even before that I was in college eating McDonald’s. I don’t miss that, but I get to eat really good food now and it’s great to really enjoy it as much as I should.”

Gaethje recently teamed up with the UFC, Modelo, and Rebuilding Together for the promotion’s gym revitalization program in Denver. For the program’s second gym renovation, Topeira Boxing Club was chosen after local trainer and owner Joaquin Romero was tragically killed in a hit and run accident in February.

Now, his father Oscar is running the location to keep his son’s dream alive, and through the program, Topeira Boxing Gym received new boxing rings, punching bags, windows, security doors, electrical outlets, additional mirrors, coat of paint, lockers and storage shelves, and more, which is something Gaethje was proud to be a part of in his local area, and hopes to continue to be involved with the program.

As far as Gaethje’s return to the octagon goes, it was rumored by multiple social media pages that the UFC was close to finalizing a matchup with Rafael Fiziev at UFC 282 on Dec. 10, which Gaethje said wasn’t accurate because he doesn’t plan on competing again in 2022.

“I told them next year,” Gaethje said. “I’m starting to work out now, I’m back in a regular routine. One thing we have over other sports is that the body is resilient, but you have to give it time. I got hit really hard, I had a hard camp, and I wanted to take a break. It was nice that I got my nose fixed.

“They got a fight for the title [at UFC 280], so somebody’s got to fight the loser. Michael Chandler and Dustin Poirier are going to fight, somebody’s got to fight the winner. I’ll be ready next year, ideally January, February, or March, whatever they want to do. I’m not sure when Kamaru [Usman] is going to London [for the Leon Edwards rematch], but I wouldn’t mind fighting in London.”

Gaethje earned his second UFC undisputed title shot following a UFC 268 decision win over Michael Chandler in MMA Fighting’s 2021 Fight of the Year. Although he fell short of winning the title in May, he still has aspirations to accomplish his dream of becoming a world champion.

In April 2018 following his loss to Dustin Poirier at UFC on FOX 29, Gaethje had said he believed he had “five fights” left. Over four years later, Gaethje clarified that it wasn’t fights, but all-out battles he had left in the tank — with the matchup against Oliveira, in his mind, being the first one.

“The specific quote is I would take four to five more wars, and since then I believe I’ve only had one, so it looks like I have three or four left in the tank,” Gaethje explained. “It’s probably two or three [more] like the Charles fight.

“Ultimately, my goal is to be the world champion. I like to follow the correct process so I think I need two wins, possibly three, hopefully it will be two — two knockouts in the first round — that gets you right back into title contention. As soon as I don’t believe, or I don’t have the confidence that I can be the best in the world, then I have no reason to keep going.”

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