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UFC fan favorite Justin Gaethje targeting 2023 comeback, still wants to ‘be the world champion’

“As soon as I don’t believe, or I don’t have the confidence that I can be the best in the world, then I have no reason to keep going.”

Justin Gaethje might be on the downhill of his career but the former WSOF lightweight titleholder still believes he has what it takes to win a UFC world title.

Gaethje is taking a much-needed hiatus after suffering a broken nose in his first-round submission defeat to Charles Oliveira at UFC 274 but expects to return to competition by no later than March next year, eager for a slot at the proposed 2023 UFC London card featuring Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman III.

“I told them next year,” Gaethje told MMA Fighting’s Mike Heck during a recent interview. “I’m starting to work out now, I’m back in a regular routine. One thing we have over other sports is that the body is resilient, but you have to give it time. I got hit really hard, I had a hard camp, and I wanted to take a break. It was nice that I got my nose fixed.

“They got a fight for the title [at UFC 280], so somebody’s got to fight the loser. Michael Chandler and Dustin Poirier are going to fight, somebody’s got to fight the winner. I’ll be ready next year, ideally January, February, or March, whatever they want to do. I’m not sure when Kamaru [Usman] is going to London [for the Leon Edwards rematch], but I wouldn’t mind fighting in London.”

Gaethje has twice come up short of winning UFC gold, losing to Nurmagomedov in 2020 and Oliveira in 2022, but would like a third crack at the lightweight championship after hopefully getting a couple of knockouts under his belt in 2023.

“Ultimately, my goal is to be the world champion,” Gaethje said. “I like to follow the correct process so I think I need two wins, possibly three, hopefully it will be two — two knockouts in the first round — that gets you right back into title contention. As soon as I don’t believe, or I don’t have the confidence that I can be the best in the world, then I have no reason to keep going.”

Gaethje is, as of writing, No. 3 in the UFC lightweight rankings, having only lost to the divisional elite since making his Octagon debut in 2017. He is considered one of the most exciting fighters on the current UFC roster.