Just days after finishing “The Menace” in a Fight of the Year candidate at The Ultimate Fighter 25 Finale, the UFC lightweight contender agreed to coach on The Ultimate Fighter 26, which will determine the inaugural UFC women’s flyweight champion in December, opposite former champion Eddie Alvarez.
Gaethje said he had a good time on the show, but “The Highlight” is confident he would have gotten an interim title shot against Tony Ferguson had he not accepted the coaching gig.
Gaethje said he was never officially offered the Ferguson fight, but it seems likely he would have been given the fight before Kevin Lee had he been available. Ferguson went on to submit Lee in the UFC 216 main event last month to capture the interim 155-pound title. In the meantime, champ Conor McGregor is currently negotiating his Octagon return with UFC executives after boxing Floyd Mayweather this past summer.
“If I wasn’t doing The Ultimate Fighter, I 100 percent would’ve gotten that fight,” Gaethje told BloodyElbow.com.
Nonetheless, Gaethje is looking forward to meeting fellow coach Alvarez at UFC 218 in Detroit on Dec. 2. Both fighters are known to leave nothing in the cage when they scrap, so fans could be in for something special.
Gaethje is accustomed to fighting in five-round main events, as his UFC debut headlined the first of two International Fight Week 2017 events, and he was the WSOF lightweight champion prior to signing with the UFC and topped many events in that promotion.
“I wish it was five rounds, but I don’t care,” Gaethje said of the Alvarez bout. “Main event is fun, but I’ll get paid the same no matter what.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for me to go in there and get the experience of fighting in a different atmosphere. Although I have fought at the main event in the UFC, there’s a different between fighting on a TUF Finale than a pay-per-view card. It’ll be a good first learning experience for me. And this is only my second fight in the UFC, so I still have a couple more things to get used to.”
This will be Gaethje’s first fight on a UFC pay-per-view card, and he hopes it is the first of many.
“I hope I’m main event of a lot of pay-per-view cards,” he said. “I want to not lose, obviously, but I want to go out there and be as entertaining as possible, and build my brand pretty much every time I fight. And that’s being the most violent lightweight in the world. I gotta be prepared for my fight Dec. 2 and I’ll prove that.”
Gaethje said he always aims for a quick win when he fights, but he is more than aware of the skill level Alvarez, who won the 155-pound title in July 2016 with a TKO of Rafael dos Anjos but dropped it later that year when he was stopped by Conor McGregor, brings to the table.
“[Alvarez is] a veteran, he’s one of the best in the world,” Gaethje said. “I’d be a fool to underestimate his skills, his power, or his ability to fight a smart fight. So I’m gonna go in there and try to put the pressure on him and just perform.”
Gaethje is ranked No. 5 in the stacked UFC lightweight division, while Alvarez is one spot ahead of him at No. 4. He isn’t sure what will come next should he get past Alvarez, but he does feel that he would deserve a crack at UFC gold afterwards.
In an ideal world, Gaethje said he would fight the winner of McGregor vs. Ferguson for the undisputed title, or Ferguson for the interim championship if McGregor is sidelined longer than expected. But in such a deep division in which it’s tough to get into the title mix, Gaethje said, it all comes down to how he performs against Alvarez.
“There’s so many freaking ways that it could go down,” Gaethje said. “But the most important thing is how you finish it. Of course, I have to win, I have to beat Eddie Alvarez. You got Khabib (Nurmagomedov) and Edson (Barboza) about to fight each other, so I think the most important thing is for me to go in there and get a convincing win — a finish — and not let it be a boring fight and a close decision. I gotta go in there and really dominate the fight and get a good finish that goes viral.
“I can control the things that I can control, and that’s my effort Dec. 2. On top of that, I don’t know when McGregor is going to fight, I don’t know if I’ll get Ferguson next, I don’t know how Edson or Khabib will finish their fight or if they’ll get the fight over me — they’re ranked ahead of me, so you think they would. But it’s all about how you finish in this sport, so if I can go out there and finish how I want to — finish how I need to — hopefully I’ll get the winner of Ferguson and McGregor, or I’ll just get Ferguson if McGregor don’t want to fight.”