UFC 249: Justin Gaethje Never Satisfied, Wants Next Belt — But Not in July

UFC interim lightweight champion. “It sounds pretty good,” Justin Gaethje admitted in a virtual post-fight press scrum with reporters following UFC 249.

In the cage, after an impressive dismantling of Tony Ferguson, Gaethje had thrown the belt to the floor. “I’ll wait for the real one,” he said, still fired up from the heat of battle.

“That’s the competitor in me,” he said afterward, with a little more time to reflect. And cool off. “I am proud to hold this belt. Not many people in the world, much less fighters in the UFC, get to achieve this. It feels fantastic.”

Still, he added, “you can never be satisfied. When I get the belt, I want the next one.”

The Justin Gaethje that showed up at UFC 249 was a refined version of the hard-hitting, show-stopping lightweight known as “The Highlight.” Gaethje, formerly a brawler with high level wrestling he rarely used, was measured. Calculated. He still chose to engage in a fan-friendly war on the feet, but picked his moments in a way he did not, previously. When Tony Ferguson appeared hurt, several times throughout the fight, Gaethje kept up the pressure — but refused to throw caution to the wind.

“That was a huge part of the plan,” he said of his newfound approach to fighting. “I’m fighting the best guys in the world at the highest level. You can’t make mistakes. That was number one. Pick your battles. Pick my shots. That’s my goal now.”

It’s a style of fighting that Gaethje didn’t know he was capable of, he added. Undefeated through his first 18 professional fights, “I just never thought about it,” he admitted. “I made the same mistakes in the Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier fights. I became complacent. I started having too much fun. I didn’t worry about getting hit, and then they hit me in the right spot at the right time. I had to make an adjustment, and I can’t let that happen anymore.”

Gaethje has not lost since the aforementioned Poirier fight. Four straight wins. Four finishes, over names like Edson Barboza, Cowboy Cerrone, and now Ferguson.

A Tony Ferguson who refused to go down. Even after nearly five full rounds of punishment, of Gaethje’s heavy hands, not to mention elbows and leg kicks. In the end, ref Herb Dean waved the fight off with “El Cucuy” still standing.

Gaethje was seemingly impressed. “It’s surprising. He’s like me though. We make a choice. Life’s a choice, fighting’s a choice, and giving up is a choice. There’s no give in either one of us. I respect that about him.”

As for the inevitable title unification bout with Khabib Nurmagomedov, Gaethje dismissed talk of a July date. “I’m not fighting in July. F*ck that. I think August, September. Something like that.”

Watch the full UFC 249 virtual post-fight press scrum with Justin Gaethje above!