Punching Conor McGregor is Justin Gaethje's desire, but UFC title fight beckons

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Only two fights interest Justin Gaethje, and for different reasons.

First and foremost, Gaethje wants to prove he’s the best fighter in the world at 155 pounds, and there’s no other matchup to fulfill that wish than a meeting with champ Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Then there’s a fight with former two-division champ Conor McGregor (21-4 MMA, 9-2 UFC), who personally offends Gaethje to the point where inflicting damage would make him happy.

“He punched an old man in the face,” Gaethje (21-2 MMA, 4-2 UFC) said after stopping Donald Cerrone (38-13 MMA, 23-10 UFC) in the first round at UFC on ESPN+ 16. “I want to (expletive) him up for that.”

The second matchup, Gaethje is pretty confident of the result should a fight happen. The first, he can’t be so sure. It’s that unknown and the accompanying stakes that drive a fight with Nurmagomedov.

“No idea,” he said of a fight with the champ. “I don’t know. He probably beats me if you put it on paper. But I hit so hard, I kick so hard, and I’m so athletic – the way you stop a takedown in wrestling is to meet force with force. You don’t try to go away.

“I won’t touch the cage. If he’s going to take me down, it’s going to be in the middle, and he’s going to get his leg kicked a few times before he even gets a shot off.”

Nurmagomedov (28-0 MMA, 12-0 UFC), who earlier this month unified the title with a submission of Dustin Poirier (25-6 MMA, 17-5 UFC), is expected to face ex-interim champ Tony Ferguson (25-3 MMA, 15-1 UFC) in a long-awaited fight, though UFC President Dana White has pinned the booking on whether Ferguson agrees to the offer.

In the meantime, Gaethje beckons as a ready-made contender that’s rattled off three straight wins against top-tier opposition. He expects Nurmagomedov to defend the title against Ferguson.

Gaethje repeatedly zapped Cerrone with low kicks to set up the punches that ended the fight with 42 seconds remaining in the first. Although more tactical than previous fights, his aggression made its mark before his power turned the tables.

Poirier, the last fighter to beat Gaethje, piped up on Twitter after Saturday’s fight to say he’d grant Gaethje’s previous wish for a rematch.

But Gaethje is only looking forward.

“I don’t owe him that, so no,” he said. “He got his shot – my turn.”

That is unless McGregor wants to come out of retirement. The promotion already has tried to book a fight between the Irish star and Gaethje, only to see it scuttled by an injury to McGregor.

“Far as I know, he’s retired,” Gaethje said. “He’s in the rankings, so he either fights or he gets out. I absolutely would love to fight him.”

Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie

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