Gaethje, who signed for the UFC in 2017 after a dominant reign as the World Series of Fighting 155-pound champion, is yet to make the walk to the Octagon in 2021 having previously fought twice-per-year since 2015.
“The Highlight” was last in action at UFC 254 last October. In the main event, Gaethje, who held the Interim UFC Lightweight Championship at the time, challenged the dominance of Khabib Nurmagomedov. Despite looking threatening in the early round, the 32-year-old was put to sleep in the second by way of a triangle choke.
Despite being the last man to hold interim gold, and at that point, the last man to challenge for the title, Gaethje sat on the side-lines earlier this year and watched Charles Oliveira and 1-0 newcomer Michael Chandler fight for the vacated lightweight strap.
With “Do Bronx” claiming the belt, and Dustin Poirier securing a date with the Brazilian thanks to two victories over former two-division UFC champion Conor McGregor, Gaethje is looking to forge his own path back to the 155-pound mountaintop. But unlike “The Diamond,” the Arizona native doesn’t see his journey back to the top including a money fight with McGregor.
During an interview with ESPN MMA, Gaethje spoke about why a clash with the Irishman didn’t come to fruition before he challenged “The Eagle.” Despite the pair engaging in a war of words in the first half of 2020, Gaethje says the fight was never given to him as an option.
“I’m sure it’ll go down in history as I had an opportunity to fight him in between Tony (Ferguson) and Khabib, but I don’t know if I did. I never got an offer. I never got any kind of official offer.”
McGregor last entered the cage in the UFC 264 headliner in July. Having suffered a gruesome broken leg in the first round, the Dubliner is targeting a speedy recovery and a return to action in 2022.
While a fourth fight with Poirier, a trilogy with Nate Diaz, and a return to his rivalry with Rafael dos Anjos all appear to be options for McGregor’s comeback, Gaethje doesn’t see himself as part of the list despite the pair’s previous animosity.
“In my mind, the ultimate goal was to beat Khabib and then Conor. And that was tenfold, and that was worth the risk. So that was what I chose. But that could’ve been a possibility then maybe, but I’d say the chances (of fighting McGregor now) are 0%…because I don’t think he’ll fight if once or twice, and it won’t be guys like me. It’ll be guys like Nate Diaz, Jorge Masvidal—favorable matchups.”
After what will have been a layoff of over a year, Justin Gaethje is set to throw hands again at UFC 268 in November. Alongside two blockbuster championship rematches between Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington, and Rose Namajunas and Zhang Weili, the former interim champ will meet former title challenger Michael Chandler inside New York City’s prestigious Madison Square Garden on November 6.
How do you think Conor McGregor would fare against Justin Gaethje? Would you like to see the Irishman enter the Octagon with “The Highlight?”