Justin Gaethje is hoping for a fight with either Tony Ferguson or Conor McGregor, but would settle for the winner of Iaquinta vs. Cerrone — whatever gives him a path to the title.
Barely two weeks ago at UFC Philadelphia, Justin Gaethje wasn’t really interested in talking about who might come next. Fresh off a big win over Edson Barboza in the main event of the ESPN card, ‘The Highlight’ bristled at talk of opponents, especially when Paul Felder’s name was brought up post fight by, well, Paul Felder.
Gaethje, at the time, did admit that the title was on his mind, however. “Man, you know I want to fight for the title, so I don’t know, I don’t know what I have to do,” he told Cageside Press and other media outlets. “So I’m going to put my energy into preparation. And I’m going to be ready to do that to every single person I face across the octagon, who’s trying to take everything that I’ve ever worked for.”
Saturday night in Atlanta, Gaethje was once again on hand, this time as a spectator. Former foe Dustin Poirier was in the main event, and battled it out with featherweight champ Max Holloway for five rounds. The effort earned Poirier the UFC’s interim lightweight championship.
Speaking to reporters earlier in the night (via MMA Junkie), Gaethje was a little more open about who he wanted next. “I believe the winner of tonight, deservedly so, gets a shot at Khabib [Nurmagomedov], and I want to put myself in position to fight the winner of that fight,” said Gaethje back stage. “I think Tony [Ferguson] and Conor [McGregor] do that for me.”
Of course, Ferguson is dealing with “whatever he has to deal with,” Gaethje said, alluding to some widely publicized mental health matters that arose recently. “I expect him to take as much time as he needs to come back 100 percent. I know he can come back right now. He’s a warrior, there’s no doubt about it.”
As for McGregor, “Yeah, who f*cking knows what’s going on with Conor?” Gaethje said. “But they either take him out of the rankings if he’s retired, or they keep him in the rankings and he has to fight somebody. If that’s me, cool. If that’s not me, cool, but there has to be some type of structure to what’s going on here.”
Ultimately, Gaethje wants to know what his path to the title is. “You can’t do that by saying I’m retired and being in the rankings and being ranked ahead of me. If you’re going to be ranked ahead of me, if you’re going to fight for the title — [Conor] doesn’t deserve the title shot right now. So therefore it’s either me, or it’s Tony. So he has to pick one of those to fight.”
If neither McGregor nor Ferguson are available or willing to fight, allowed Gaethje, “then the winner of Donald [Cerrone] and Al [Iaquinta, at UFC Ottawa] — the winner of that fight. If I fight them, then that puts me in line for the winner of Khabib and the winner of tonight. All I want to do it be in line next. So those three, I would say, it’s those three or bust.”
Gaethje doubled down on Twitter later in the evening, calling out McGregor there.
Fuck your money. You in it or not @TheNotoriousMMA
— Justin Gaethje 🇺🇸 (@Justin_Gaethje) April 14, 2019
Time will tell who he gets, though the winner of Iaquinta vs. Cerrone in Ottawa in just a few week’s time seems most likely at the moment. Still, from the UFC’s perspective, if there’s a booking problem here, it’s a positive one: lightweight is brimming with stars at the moment.