This isn’t Justin Gaethje’s first time preventing in New York. It’s not even technically his first time preventing at Madison Sq. Backyard.
That first time was at The Theater at Madison Sq. Backyard, although, practically 5 years in the past. On Saturday on the Backyard correct, the previous interim UFC light-weight champion will face Michael Chandler to kick off the pay-per-view portion of UFC 268 with what most count on to be a massively violent affair.
Just about every little thing is completely different now for Gaethje (22-3, 20 finishes). When he was final on the town, he was nonetheless the unbeaten champion of B-level promotion World Collection of Preventing (now often called Skilled Fighters League after a change in format). A TKO by way of physician stoppage of 155-pound challenger Luiz Firmino after the third spherical on Dec. 31, 2016, was his final earlier than signing with the UFC. Even his lodge digs have been completely different again then.
“I received a collection in New York, and even that’s somewhat greater than I assumed it will be,” Gaethje informed The Publish on Wednesday by way of Zoom concerning his pre-fight setup this week. “Final time I fought right here in , I stayed in a room that was about as large as my pantry at house. So, yeah, it’s somewhat completely different.”
The person often called “The Spotlight” for his devastating putting energy and penchant for must-see cagefighting motion has had a memorable UFC run. He made an enormous splash in his debut with a second-round TKO of Michael Johnson, dropped a pair of fights to 2 of the most effective lightweights of the previous 10 years, rattled off a four-fight (T)KO streak on his strategy to the interim belt final Might, then turned the ultimate sufferer within the profession of undefeated former light-weight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov, who retired within the octagon after their struggle simply over one yr in the past.
Incomes the interim crown in Might 2020 with maybe the best efficiency of his profession in opposition to Tony Ferguson, whom Gaethje stopped within the remaining body after four-plus rounds of fixed kicks and punches with punishing pop behind them, was not sufficient. He instantly tossed his gold-plated belt on the canvas, craving just for the true deal.
“It was second place,” Gaethje stated. “It’s nonetheless second place. I received all the way in which to No. 2 on this planet. That’s a extremely nice achievement, nevertheless it’s not what I’m capturing for.”
Now, at the very least, Gaethje has a brand new appreciation for the interim belt. He’s “pleased with it” and what it means to his household and his coach, who will put it in a field to hold in Gaethje’s home alongside along with his World Collection of Preventing strap.
However getting so near the undisputed, be-all, end-all UFC light-weight title solely has him much more targeted on bringing that one house as properly. After UFC president Dana White deserted his quixotic, months-long marketing campaign to lure Nurmagomedov again to the cage, a struggle to find out the brand new champion was put collectively. It didn’t embody top-ranked light-weight Dustin Poirier — himself a former interim champ who, like Gaethje, was tapped out by the retired legend — nor second-ranked Gaethje.
As a substitute, the Nos. 3 and 4 contenders at 155 kilos, Charles Oliveira and Chandler, respectively, duked it out for the vacant title in Might. Oliveira rallied after a disastrous first spherical for a TKO end early within the second, and he makes his first title protection in opposition to Poirier subsequent month.
“[Oliveira] didn’t struggle the No. 1 man on this planet,” Gaethje says. “He nonetheless has not fought the No. 1 man on this planet, whether or not that’s Poirier or whether or not that’s me. You didn’t struggle the No. 1 man on this planet, on the time.”
The light-weight division is perpetually backed up with a number of worthy title contenders — remnants, maybe, of the times when Conor McGregor didn’t defend the title he received on the Backyard nearly 5 years in the past. Nonetheless, Gaethje refuses to simply accept being handed over for a shot on the Oliveira-Poirier winner. His mantra at Wednesday’s media day was “we riot” if he’s not subsequent according to a victory over Chandler.
The 33-year-old steered he’d be prepared for a title struggle anyplace between Might and August subsequent yr, however he’s not choosy if it’s sooner. To listen to him, it doesn’t sound as if a lot would get in the way in which of him taking no matter alternative is dropped at him so long as the title is up for grabs, even a short-notice likelihood.
“If they arrive and say, ‘We’ll pay you $100,000 to make weight for that December struggle,’” Gaethje says, “I’m making weight.”
Not that Gaethje is trying previous 35-year-old Chandler (22-6, 17 finishes), a veteran whose popularity for white-knuckle wars within the cage approaches his personal. As a lot because the headlining rematch between welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington holds loads of intrigue, this pivotal three-round bout at 155 kilos doubtless serves because the star attraction for quite a lot of struggle followers who anticipate a sure-fire Battle of the Night time contender.
Gaethje is aware of a “riot” just isn’t even an possibility if he doesn’t care for enterprise Saturday.
“He’s tremendous harmful,” Gaethje stated of Chandler. “You’ll be able to’t let him go on the market and begin hitting you within the face and that not be a problem. He’s tremendous athletic, tremendous harmful, and I’m trying ahead to this problem.”