The last few months have been a wild journey for Justin Gaethje. Originally rumored to be facing Conor McGregor in the summer, “The Highlight” ended up getting the opportunity of a lifetime. Now, he is in the main event of UFC 249, facing Tony Ferguson for the interim UFC Lightweight Title.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Dana White has done whatever he can to keep UFC 249 afloat. When Khabib Nurmagomedov was out of the main event, the UFC needed a new plan. Gaethje’s (21-2) team was contacted and initially said no. After a day to think about it, Gaethje told TMZ Sports he realized the opportunity in front of him was too good to pass up.
“No, I haven’t (taken a a fight on short-notice), but I’ve also never been offered a UFC title,” Gaethje stated in the interview. “That’s the only thing I’m working for. That’s all I’ve been working for since the beginning so I’m ready to gamble.”
Gaethje is on a three-fight win streak, having last beaten Donald Cerrone via TKO in September. He is 4-2 in the UFC, his lone losses to Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier. With 18 wins via knockout, Gaethje isn’t afraid of what’s to come.
“Every time I’ve ever fought, there’s never been this many unknowns, much less the unknowns we’re dealing with right now,” Gaethje went on to say. “It’s just really a terrifying moment, and I’m talking about the competition side. I know what I’m facing.”
What he is facing is a man in Tony Ferguson who is on a mission. On a 12-fight win streak, Ferguson has fought for an interim title once; beating Kevin Lee for it in 2017. The fifth time the fight between him and Khabib has been called off, Ferguson’s focus remains on championship glory, by any means necessary.
Known for his unorthodox style and training methods, Ferguson is an anomaly. Gaethje is ready for whatever he throws at him.
“Tony’s been getting ready to face Khabib Nurmagomedov, to fight for a world title,” said Gaethje. “But it’s perfect because I always think they’re working harder, I always think they’re better than me. I always think they’re luckier than me and I love to face adversity. So, I’m facing my fears right now and I think that’s what we all need to do.
“I got the perfect dance partner that I dream about, that’s Tony Ferguson. He thrives in dark places, he doesn’t get tired, he’s got cardio for days and I hit like a Mack Truck. When I hit him, he’ll go to sleep.”
UFC 249 on April 18 is set to take place in a private location that will be unknown to fighters. The UFC was banking on Khabib and Ferguson to face off against one another. Now, Gaethje has an opportunity to pull off the upset with less than two weeks to go before the fight. He may realize there are those who doubt him, but he won’t give in to anything but his own mindset.
“If I lose then where are we at? It is in the same exact spot we’re in right now,” said Gaethje. “I’m going to go out there and get a paycheck, which is nice, but ultimately, I get a chance for glory. Heroes live forever, legends never die and I’m literally here to make a statement. My name will be carried on far longer after I’m here because of my effort, because of my work ethic and the skills I possess.”
UFC 249 will be featured on ESPN+ PPV.