With both lightweights sitting near the top of the division and neither currently booked, Justin Gaethje is ready to revisit his Fight of the Year with Dustin Poirier.
No official UFC offer has been made so nothing is a done deal, but after Gaethje and Poirier engaged in an all-time slugfest back in 2018, it seems the matchmaker’s job is already done. For his part, Gaethje is confident he’ll soon see Poirier standing across the octagon from him again, although there are a few others who might disagree with him.
“I think that’s the obvious answer,” Gaethje told MMA Fighting regarding the Poirier rematch. “He’s No. 2, he has no dance partner, and the same with me. I think that fight is certainly a title contention fight. The winner of [Charles] Oliveira and [Beneil] Dariush fight, obviously [they] are going to fight for the title in October, so I need to fight Dustin in August, September, or October to put me on that perfect timeline.
“You can’t force anybody to fight. I’m not saying he doesn’t want to fight me, but he probably doesn’t need to ever fight again with how much money he’s made. So I don’t know. I think he’ll take it. Some people around me think he won’t take it. All I can do is focus on myself in that regard.”
Poirier hasn’t given any indication that he’s not interested in a rematch against Gaethje, especially after he specifically spoke about looking for the biggest and best fights possible in the wake of declining a callout from Beneil Dariush.
Of course, signing up for a rematch against Gaethje is also like volunteering to get into a 10-car pile-up on the highway doing 100 miles per hour, so there’s a certain amount of risk involved that may send Poirier looking elsewhere since he already earned a knockout win in their first fight.
Gaethje understands that anything is possible, but he’s hoping that Poirier will ultimately choose to scrap with him again.
“Obviously that’s always a concern,” Gaethje said. “I need a dance partner and if they say no, there’s literally nothing I can do about it. I’m not concerned personally about Dustin specifically, because I think he’s not done fighting. I think he’s still going to want to fight. I think I’m a big fight, a big name. That’s a win-win for both of us in regards to the top echelon of this sport. I think I bring more to the table than that specific matchup [with Dariush] at that time. So I don’t think he would take the same course when it comes to making the choice.
“The only thing is obviously anyone that steps in there [against me] comes out with a lot of damage, so you ask yourself, do you want to take that risk? ‘Do I need to take that risk?’ I can’t be sure that the answer’s yes, but I hope so.”
Beyond a potential title fight being awarded to the winner, Gaethje would also love nothing more than to get the opportunity to exact revenge on Poirier after falling to him five years ago.
Since that time, Gaethje has racked up a 6-2 record including four knockouts, seven performance bonuses, and another Fight of the Year for his 2021 war with Michael Chandler. That impressive résumé aside, Gaethje feels like he’s improved dramatically since fighting Poirier the first time around and would just love the chance to prove that in a rematch.
“I would say [the differences are] night and day,” Gaethje explained. “I used to be very emotional. I used to think I needed to build up this anger to be the person I needed to be. And through all the experience and all these fights, I’ve understood that it’s just who I am. My athletic ability, my intuitive ability to operate in the chaos and control the chaos, I think is something I’ve really been able to hone into and understand that it’s something that allows me to be the fighter that I need to be.
“I think we’re both different fighters [from 2018]. Obviously, that was five years ago. So yeah, it’s a different ballgame, but a fight’s a fight. At the end of the day, I think he’s got phenomenal skills, he’s a hell of a matchup for me, and nothing short of Fight of the Century again.”
Even without a title on the line, Gaethje vs. Poirier 2 would be must-see TV, but is that a matchup prominent enough to headline a pay-per-view?
Gaethje believes that’s definitely possible, not only because of the kind of fight he expects with Poirier, but also thanks to both becoming established draws over the past few years.
That said, Gaethje hopes the UFC is willing to compensate them properly if he’s offered a main event clash against Poirier, because otherwise he’d be completely OK with a three-round fight.
“I prefer three rounds because it’s 10 minutes less of fighting,” Gaethje said. “I get paid pretty much the same amount whether it’s a three- or five-round fight. If they were to break what I make into thirds and then add two thirds on the end and pay me that, I would fight five rounds any day. I think it would be worth it then. I think the most dangerous rounds are the fourth and fifth rounds, but I also think that’s when the elite caliber of fighter or the better fighter is more obvious. I could argue both ways.
“My coach wants five rounds. I think it needs to be five rounds, especially with where it leads to. It’s leading to a title fight. I think these fights should be fought for five rounds, but again, I need to be compensated for those two [extra] rounds.”