When Justin Gaethje got the call to fight for a UFC title, he jumped all over it.
On Monday, UFC President Dana White announced that Gaethje will face Tony Ferguson for an interim lightweight title in the new main event of UFC 249 on April 18, replacing undisputed champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
In a recent interview with TMZ, Gaethje reacted to the big announcement and facing multiple challenges ahead of his first pay-per-view main event.
“Every time I’ve ever fought, there’s never been this many unknowns — much less the unknowns we’re dealing with right now,” Gaethje said. “It’s just really a terrifying moment, and I’m talking about the competition side. I know what I’m facing.”
Ferguson is in the middle of an incredible 12-fight winning streak and has more than earned an opportunity to become the undisputed 155-pound title holder. Not only is sharing the octagon with Ferguson a battle for Gaethje, but he also gets to battle himself in ways he hasn’t before — all during an unprecedented time in the world with the coronavirus pandemic.
“Tony’s been getting ready to face Khabib Nurmagomedov, to fight for a world title,” Gaethje said. “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.”
Gaethje has finished his last three fights in impressive fashion and, most recently, he got a first-round stoppage win over Donald Cerrone in September. “The Highlight” has been vocal over the years about wanting full training camps for his fights.
For this opportunity, Gaethje looked at things a bit differently.
“No, I haven’t [taken a short-notice fight like this before], but I’ve also never been offered a UFC title,” Gaethje said. “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.
“There’s very few people who would sign up for what me and Tony just signed up for — including most UFC fighters. A lot of guys will say that they’re ready but a lot of guys would not put their name on that dotted line.”
Recently, Gaethje has been linked to a fight with Conor McGregor later on this summer. With that chance to face the biggest star in UFC history, along with the other challenges involved, Gaethje revealed his coach initially said no to the short-notice fight with Ferguson.
After sleeping on it, Gaethje and his team weighed their options and believe the pros outweigh the cons.
“If I lose, then where are we at? It’s in the same exact spot we’re in right now,” Gaethje said. “I’m gonna 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, my work ethic and the skills I possess.”
With two of the top lightweights in the world getting ready to square off in the UFC 249 headliner, there’s so many different scenarios in which the fight could play out. Stylistically, the odds of the fight being exciting are high.
In terms of how he sees it playing out, Gaethje looks at it from a realistic perspective.
“I got the perfect dance partner that I dream about,” Gaethje said. “He drives 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.
“I possess some of the best finishing skills on the UFC roster. I’m gonna attack his body, I’m gonna attack his legs, and whenever he’s worried about those I’m gonna punch him in the head and hopefully, he goes to sleep. If not, he’s probably going to cut me up with some elbows, probably choke me out late in the fight if I don’t put him to sleep. I’m content with every single one of those scenarios as long as I get to go in there and I don’t disappoint myself, or my family. That’s my only goal.”