Justin Gaethje’s fight against Michael Chandler at UFC 268 seems likely go down as one of MMA’s all-time great wars. Two fighters dead set on crushing one another in the cage, and yet somehow, someway, despite all the violence on display, they were unable to do it.
At the end of 15 minutes, the ‘Highlight’ walked out with his hand raised, and with the possibility of competing for UFC gold once again in his immediate future. But, that doesn’t mean that the aftermath has been all happiness and sunshine for the former WSOF champ.
In a recent interview on ‘The Anik & Florian Podcast’, Gaethje had some harsh words for referee Mike Beltran.
Beltran, who officiated the UFC 268 lightweight battle, had a notably odd interaction with Gaethje near the end of the second round. The Wittman-trained fighter was on the receiving end of an eye poke from ‘Iron’ Mike, that Beltran appeared not to notice. As Gaethje turned and winced in pain, Chandler stepped forward and landed a huge right hand—after which Beltran intervened to check on Gaethje as a result of the foul.
However, rather than bringing in a ringside physician, or allowing Gaethje a moment to recover his vision, Beltran merely asked if Gaethje could see and was capable of continuing. Not wanting to have the bout stopped, Gaethje immediately answered ‘Yes’, and the fight was restarted with barely any time lost.
“That was a big punch,” Gaethe said, noting Beltran’s delay in stopping the action and the blow Chandler landed after the foul (transcript via MMA Fighting). “What if that would have knocked me out? Those can change the whole direction of a fight. It’s just crazy to me that it wasn’t a big issue, because for me it was a huge issue. That’s $1 million, if I lose, that’s so much money off of my table.”
“So in my mind, I think he’s referencing the punch that just occurred,” Gaethje added, speaking on Beltran’s questions after stepping in to check the foul. “And so, I’m like, yeah, I’m good, because as a fighter, you never say you’re not good to continue. So then he was like, ‘OK, fight.’ I was like, ‘No, I need my time. He poked me in the eye.’ And he looks directly at me and he says, ‘You said you’re good, fight.’ And he never looked at my eye. He didn’t even take one second to see if I was affected.”
All of which apparently may have been forgiven and forgotten from Gaethje, excepting that he says Beltran came to him after the fight and tried to offer justification for why he handled the foul the way he did. To his mind, even if Beltran never saw the initial eye poke, once he stepped in to pause the action, he should have followed normal procedure and taken the time to properly assess Gaethje’s condition.
“This is why I’m more upset about it is because he tried to justify it,” Gaethje said. “If you would have just accepted that, he f-cked up, then at least I have a picture of why it happened and how it will never happened again. We need to learn from that.”
Fortunately for Gaethje, he came out of the event without any apparent lasting damage to his eye—and with the extra $1 million from his win bonus. That money may just come in handy, after all, since he’s made it known that if he doesn’t get the next lightweight title shot, he will “go to war” with the UFC. And as any number of fighters from the promotion’s past could tell him, that’s an expensive proposition.