New York, NY — To hear Justin Gaethje tell it, his time away from the octagon was less about taking time off after a big fight — against Khabib Nurmagomedov just over a year ago — and more about finding the right way forward.
“There was a little bit of an unclear path to what we were trying to do,” Gaethje (22-3) explained during the UFC 268 media day on Wednesday. “With Khabib retiring, [Dustin] Poirier taking the shot against [Conor] McGregor for the money, which I don’t blame him at all. It kind of threw things into a little bit of a crazy, crazy little awkward thing. So yeah, here I am.”
The loss to Khabib “lit a fire under my ass,” Gaethje said, and it motivated him to make the right choices “to put myself in a title eliminator fight, and to get that title shot.”
The title eliminator label is Gaethje’s own, however. The UFC has not made anything official. “That’s my belief,” Gaethje admitted. “I’m number two. Who else? There’s absolutely nobody else.”
“If not, we riot.” Of course, Islam Makhachev has thrown his name in the hat, but that’s a suggestion Gaethje bristled at previously. Though Wednesday, he took a softer tone regarding Daniel Cormier. “At the end of the day, I love Cormier. I felt it was my job that night to Tweet and call it out, because that’s what I saw,” he said regarding DC’s alleged bias towards Makhachev.
As for who he would like to face in a hypothetical title fight, “I hope Poirier, because I want to exact my revenge,” said Gaethje. “That’s one of the most human traits, is wanting to exact revenge on somebody that has beaten you, especially in this sport. There’s not many times you get that opportunity, so that would be a great chance. But [Charles] Oliveira brings such a crazy style to the cage, I think for me that would be a great match-up.”
Still, the Poirier fight has another advantage. “At the end of the day, it’s the only path I have to revenge. He’s beat [Eddie] Alvarez, so with that I can get both those fights that. I will never get the Khabib fight back, and I’m okay with that.”
As for all the time off, Gaethje told Cageside Press on Wednesday that “there were things that needed to be corrected, and I needed time to do that.” Among the changes, Gaethje has hired a nutritionist, and a chef. “The older I get, the less forgiving some things are. I’ve got to take the time, take care of the body, and again I fought two times in a five month period. So this break was somewhat natural.”
Watch the full UFC 268 media day appearance from Justin Gaethje above. More coverage of the event can be found below. UFC 268 takes place Saturday November 6 at Madison Square Garden in New York, NY.