Gaethje the Undeserving
Justin Gaethje will be strapping on his MMA gloves and entering the octagon to compete for UFC Gold for the third time in as many years. But does Gaethje even deserve a title shot?
After back-to-back losses against Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, in 2016 and ‘17 respectively, The Highlight beat James Vick, Edson Barboza and Donald Cerrone to merit an interim title bout against Tony Ferguson. Tony was intentionally supposed to fight the then Lightweight Champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov but an injury to the Russian allowed Gaethje to step in - with adequate notice - to fight El Cucuy. The bloody battle was close to going the distance but Gaethje had inflicted so much damage on his opponent that the referee stopped the fight - and rightly so.
The most elusive bout - Khabib V Ferguson - was once again off, instead we got Gaethje vs Nurmagomedov only 5 months later on Fight Island. Gaethje’s second title bout - this time for the real gold - did not go well for the Arizonan, Khabib did what Khabib does and mauled Justin; just as he did to Poirier and Conor McGregor. The only surprise that night was Khabib’s retirement announcement (29-0, W-L).
The UFC could have lined up a sure-headliner with Justin Gaethje vs Dustin Poirier for the vacant title, having both proven that although they weren’t better than the best, they were better than the rest. However, Dana White did not believe Khabib was truly finished and in order to draw Khabib out of retirement a new name came into the fold; Michael Chandler.
The hype surrounding Michael Chandler after transferring from Bellator to UFC was clear from his promo material. The champion of the rival brand was coming to the UFC to show that he was the best lightweight mixed martial artist in the world. *a storyline I envision Dana White imagining whilst licking his lips and rubbing his hands together in a maniacal fashion* One more fight for Khabib to make it a "round" 30 in the W slot.
Chandler even impressed on his debut by taking out Dan Hooker in the first round via TKO to show the world it was not just his wrestling that fighters needed to be wary of. All the UFC needed was another opponent with enough credentials to really boost Chandler. Enter: Charles ‘Do Bronx’ Oliveira - stage right. The Brazilian had amassed an 8-fight-win-streak and only a zombie was able to last until the final bell during this impressive run.
Things however, did not go to plan on the night for the UFC brass. Oliveira went back to his finishing ways for this fight. Showing Chandler that there was a difference between the elite in the UFC and the elite in Bellator. But Do Bronx didn’t do enough to entice Khabib back - and rightly so.
Following his title victory Charles Oliveira proved that the top spot was his against Dustin Poirier - who beat Dan Hooker, also, and Connor McGregor twice to deserve his shot. The title shot was written as Conor’s hype train for his return was a direct line to the lightweight title now that Khabib was out. So it was only right that whoever won the fight would be next in line and Oliveira was happy to sit on the sidelines and wait. Dustin was successful against the striker McGregor, but against a technician like Oliveira - Poirier fell to a rear-naked choke, the same submission Khabib caught him with two years earlier.
In the meantime, Gaethje had the fortune of participating in what was probably a coach’s best night at UFC268 when Trevor Wittman watched as three of his fighters recorded a hatrick of victories - including Justin Gaethje against… no, not Dan Hooker - Michael Chandler. This win alone was enough for Dana White to award Justin the number 1 contender position this Saturday at UFC274.
So, what do you think? Does Gaethje deserve a title shot right now? Especially since Khabib’s protoge Islam Makhachev is on a 10 fight win streak with clear domination of all of his opponents. *except Makhachev vs Tsarukyan, what a fight!*