Former UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos made his triumphant return to the lightweight division when he defeated Paul Felder last November. In so doing, he has returned to the top 10 of the rankings. Currently, dos Anjos is without an opponent, and he has tried to remedy this by calling out #2-ranked lightweight Justin Gaethje.
Like dos Anjos, Gaethje is also without an opponent at the moment, and with every lightweight who is ranked above dos Anjos already booked, the former champion argues that this makes him the most logical opponent for Gaethje by default. According to Gaethje’s manager, Ali Abdelaziz, the Gaethje camp sees things differently.
“I don’t think it’s business (issues) right now,” Abdelaziz said to MMA Junkie about Gaethje being unbooked. “I think I just have to get the right fight. I see a lot of people calling him out. You can’t just be away from the lightweight division for six years and come back and try to fight the No. 2 guy. You have to earn it.”
There’s no doubt that Abdelaziz is referring to dos Anjos with the above quote. Prior to his return to the division last November, dos Anjos had not competed in the lightweight division in four years.
There were rumors and preliminary reports that it was Michael Chandler who would be next for Gaethje. Those rumors fell apart after Khabib’s retirement was officially recognized by the UFC and Chandler was instead paired opposite Charles Oliveira to determine the new lightweight champion. Gaethje felt disrespected by being left out of the equation when this booking was made, but his manager understands the UFC’s decision.
“Listen, Justin was supposed to fight Michael Chandler,” Abdelaziz said. “That was the talk. We found out Chandler (was) fighting Oliveira, and I get it. The UFC wants a champion who never lost to Khabib (Nurmagomedov). If a guy who lost to Khabib becomes the champion … you need more time to make people forget about Khabib, right? They made the move, and I get it.”
A new lightweight champion will be crowned on May 15 when Charles Oliveira faces Michael Chandler at UFC 262. As it stands, Gaethje will be relegated to watching on the sidelines unless something enticing opens up for him. Someone who has also expressed interest in fighting both Gaethje and dos Anjos is #11-ranked lightweight Islam Makhachev. Based on Abdelaziz’s comments, this pairing doesn’t seem to be enough to lure Gaethje back into the cage, either.
Whom would you like to see Justin Gaethje paired against next?