GLENDALE — The timing of Justin Gaethje’s lightweight showdown with Dustin Poirier could not be more advantageous.
Gaethje meets Poirier on April 14 at Glendale’s Gila River Arena in the main event of UFC on FOX 29. The matchup takes place just seven days after the UFC’s long-muddled lightweight picture finally received a hint of clarity with Khabib Nurmagomedov’s title win over Al Iaquinta at UFC 223, a win which stripped belts away from Tony Ferguson and Conor McGregor and centralized the championship solely under Nurmagomedov.
That gives Gaethje a clear target to aim for after his battle on Saturday night, and for that, he’s happy — even if he isn’t happy with Nurmagomedov’s first callout with the belt.
“There is a more clear path,” Gaethje said Wednesday at UFC on FOX 29 open workouts, “even though Khabib says he wants to go fight GSP, which is counterproductive to everything he talked sh*t to Conor about, or talked sh*t on Conor about. But other than that, yeah, it doesn’t matter. Tony (Ferguson), the winner of [Kevin Lee] and (Edson) Barboza [could be next in line for me], but it doesn’t matter — I’ve got to get past Poirier, who’s a very dangerous opponent, and I’d be a fool to look past him.”
Nurmagomedov announced his desire to fight former UFC welterweight and middleweight champion Georges St-Pierre in the immediate aftermath of his win over Iaquinta. Nurmagomedov cited his admiration for St-Pierre as the reason for his callout, though it didn’t end up mattering, as St-Pierre swiftly declined Nurmagomedov’s offer by explaining that the undefeated Dagestani has “unfinished business” to first take care of at 155 pounds
Step one of that unfinished business very well could be McGregor.
The UFC has yet to announce what consequences the popular Irishman will face for his absurd bus attack at UFC 223 that resulted in the loss of three different fights, however Gaethje doesn’t think McGregor should get the book thrown at him.
The way Gaethje sees it, McGregor has already hurt his own checkbook enough.
“There’s nothing really you can make of that,” Gaethje said of McGregor’s antics. “It’s crazy circumstances that we hope will never happen again, but you put a bunch of fighters in an arena and someone might fight each other.
“Conor’s going to get punished by paying millions of dollars to people, so that’s plenty of punishment. And I don’t want him to go anywhere, because like I said, I’m going to fight and claw my way to the championship. So either he’s there or Khabib’s there, it doesn’t matter.”
A win over Poirier would immediately thrust Gaethje back into the title mix. So while Gaethje believes Nurmagomedov is “absolutely” the deserving champion of 155 pounds, he sees plenty of holes he could exploit against “The Eagle” when the two eventually meet.
“26-0, he’s No. 1 in the world on paper and he’s proven it over and over,” Gaethje said.
“I absolutely think I could beat him. Kick his legs off. He holds his chin up high and I’m an All-American wrestler, Division I, so I do think I could stop his takedowns.”
First up on the docket, though, is Gaethje’s dance date against Poirier. And after the events in Brooklyn, Gaethje is already entering UFC on FOX 29 with a slight leg up on his competitor.
Last week, Gaethje’s teammate Rose Namajunas successfully defended her strawweight championship against Poirier’s teammate, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, in UFC 223’s co-main event. Now, Gaethje is looking to make it back-to-back disappointing weeks for ATT.
“It makes me feel happy,” Gaethje said, “especially knowing [Poirier] has the same coaches. They fight out of the same gym. So we’re 1-0 right now, so I’ve got to keep that going.”