Despite being choked unconscious by Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 254, Justin Gaethje has declared himself the ‘No. 1’ guy at 155 pounds now that Khabib has retired from MMA.
Gaethje, who was finished with a triangle choke in the second round of the UFC 254 main event, is keen to brush things aside and get back in the octagon ASAP.
‘The Highlight’ has opted to fight Conor McGregor for the vacant lightweight championship should the Irishman ‘bounce out’ of his teased rematch with Dustin Poirier in January.
“With [Nurmagomedov] retiring, I’m No. 1,” Gaethje told UFC broadcaster Megan Olivi moments after his loss (h/t Steven Marrocco of MMA Fighting). “[Dustin] Poirier and McGregor are going to fight. They haven’t made it official, so if McGregor wants to bounce out and get the belt, I’m right here.”
“Being choked out is a nice little dream, and then it’s on to the next one. I took probably two or three shots, big shots to the head,” he later added. “When you get choked out, I’m not a doctor, but I believe there’s not any serious consequences to that, and I love it. And there’s a belt on the line now.”
Gaethje believes he was only a few more leg kicks away from winning the fight and says Khabib will be limping for weeks to come.
“Being choked out is a nice little dream, and then it’s on to the next one,” he said.
“I took probably two or three shots, big shots to the head,” he later added. “When you get choked out, I’m not a doctor, but I believe there’s not any serious consequences to that, and I love it. And there’s a belt on the line now. I had him in trouble. I wasn’t very many kicks away from him not being able to walk. He’s going to be limping for at least three weeks. It’s nothing to be proud of, because I lost. But I felt alive and I felt great.”
Gaethje, who admitted losing to Khabib ‘sucks’, said he walked over to the champ and congratulated him on doing his father proud.
“I hope that’s something that he really thought about,” Gaethje said of Khabib’s post-fight retirement. “I don’t believe anybody should be making decisions like that right in the cage after a fight. It’s such an emotional time, win or lose. Him especially, with the loss of his father. I can’t begin to imagine, and I don’t want to imagine, what he was going through. But as soon as the fight was over, I went over to him and said he made his father proud, and he did.”
Gaethje would ideally like to fight for the title again in his next fight but is okay with the UFC giving the opportunity to someone else.
“If they want to give it to someone else, so be it. But I’m ready. I’m ready to fight again. This is my job. This is my life, and I love it so much.”
As of writing, Gaethje is #7 in the UFC men’s pound-for-pound rankings.