Justin Gaethje had nothing but praise for Islam Makhachev after watching him eviscerate Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 294, but now he wants his own chance to dethrone the reigning lightweight champion.
Prior to a late change in the main event once Charles Oliveira suffered a cut that forced him off the card, Gaethje was already in line for the next title shot, but that certainty no longer exists. UFC CEO Dana White stated at the post-fight press conference that “you’ve got to give it to Oliveira” next, but also noted that no decision has been made yet regarding Makhachev’s future.
For his part, Gaethje believes a knockout win over Dustin Poirier in July should cement him as the No. 1 contender, not to mention Makhachev dispatching Oliveira in relatively easy fashion during their first encounter in 2022.
“I’m No. 2, I knocked out Poirier,” Gaethje said during the UFC 294 post-fight show. “I mean, Charles Oliveira is ahead of me, but he already lost to Makhachev. I have not fought Makhachev. It’s a fresh matchup, a new matchup, and I think that’s what the fans are looking for.
“I think [Makhachev] would have beaten Oliveira just the same [as Volkanovski]. Oliveira beat me, MMA math doesn’t work. I’ve said he’s not Khabib [Nurmagomedov], but he might be, so I just want to go out there and figure it out.”
In addition to his win over Poirier in July, Gaethje also scored a hard-fought recent victory over Rafael Fiziev.
Oliveira scored a stoppage against Beneil Dariush to set up the rematch with Makhachev.
Gaethje, who was in attendance at UFC 294 to help his friend and teammate Kamaru Usman in the co-main event, feels like his résumé speaks for itself, not to mention a career spent putting on some of the most exciting fights in the history of the sport.
“I’ve been here for a long time,” Gaethje said. “I’ve been doing this s*** for a long time, but I’ve earned my spot. I knocked out Dustin Poirier.
“Is Islam Makhachev beatable? I don’t know, but I’m going to give everything as I always have.”
To that point, Gaethje praised Makhachev for his performance in defeating Volkanovski by first-round knockout, which adds yet another wrinkle to his arsenal that also includes a suffocating and punishing grappling game.
“He’s on a 13-fight winning streak,” Gaethje said of Makhachev. “He’s been absolutely dominant outside of the first Volkanovski fight, but again, that’s such a tough matchup for someone that’s coming in grappling heavy. I think him attacking this as a striking-heavy fight seemed to be absolutely [the right move]. [Volkanovski] is a bowling ball. It’s hard to hold a bowling ball down. It is what it is. That was impressive.”