UFC lightweight Justin Gaethje has reiterated his annoyance at the fact he wasn’t chosen to fight for the vacant lightweight title earlier this year.
In October 2020, Gaethje was preparing for his unification clash with the legendary Khabib Nurmagomedov. Prior to his meeting with “The Eagle,” the 32-year-old had been on a destructive path in the lightweight division, leaving the bodies of James Vick, Edson Barboza, Donald Cerrone, and Tony Ferguson in his wake. His finish of “El Cucuy” at UFC 249 saw him crowned the Interim UFC Lightweight Champion.
As Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier had done before him, Gaethje fell short of reaching the 155-pound mountaintop. After an encouraging opening round, “The Highlight” was put to sleep by Khabib in the second frame. Nevertheless, his form beforehand, and the fact he had held the interim gold in 2020, suggested Gaethje would be firmly in the title conversation after the Dagestani retired following UFC 254.
Surprisingly. that’s not how things panned out for the striking brute. While Dustin Poirier ran it back with former foe Conor McGregor twice in the space of six months, veteran Charles Oliveira met with former Bellator champ Michael Chandler, who boasted just one appearance in the UFC, in a battle for the vacant 155-pound gold.
In an interview with The Schmo, Gaethje suggested he was the one top contender left in the cold after Khabib vacated the belt. In his eyes, the fact he had held the interim title prior to the Russian’s departure from the sport should have been enough to secure his place in the UFC 262 main event.
“#1 fought #5, #3 fought #4, and if you were #2, you got fucked. It just so happened that my name was next to that #2 spot. It is what it is.
“I was the most recent interim titleholder. You know, I see both ways to it. From the outside, being me, yeah I was not happy. If I’m on the inside and I’m running a $4 billion company, $5 or $6 million company, then I probably want to try and have people forget about that guy. They did what they wanted to do; had to do in their eyes. I was upset, but it doesn’t matter. Gotta go on and gotta keep working.”
Despite admitting that he doesn’t believe fighters should receive title shots off the back of a loss, Gaethje suggested the circumstance surrounding the lightweight championship scene should have warranted an exception. “The Highlight” believes that to be especially true considering the recent news that Cory Sandhagen will step in to face Petr Yan at UFC 267 for the Interim UFC Bantamweight Championship.
“I lost. I don’t think you should get a title shot off a loss. But I think the circumstances were special. Similar to the circumstances that got Cory Sandhagen his title fight. He came off a loss and he’s jumped in there for a title fight. And the guy [Aljamain Sterling] didn’t retire. There were even more special circumstances in that [Khabib vacating the belt]. There’s other examples of people getting shots off of losses. So yeah, I thought that was a bullshit way to say I shouldn’t get it.”
After Charles Oliveira’s crowning at UFC 262, “Do Bronx” will make his first title defense at UFC 269 on December 11. A month earlier, Justin Gaethje will look to book his place opposite the victor of the final pay-per-view main event of the year in early 2022.
“The Highlight” will clash with former title challenger Chandler on a stacked UFC 268 card. After a number of back-and-forths surrounding who will take the first backward step and the relative UFC newcomer’s comments on the COVID-19 vaccine, the anticipation for Gaethje’s first fight in over a year is about as high as it could be.
Who do you think will have their hand raised at UFC 268, Justin Gaethje or Michael Chandler?