Justin Gaethje believes the only unfinished business he has right now at lightweight is a title shot.
The former UFC interim lightweight champion and BMF champion told ESPN on Wednesday that he will wait for as long as he has to if he does not get the next chance at titleholder Islam Makhachev.
“Who do I fight?” Gaethje said. “There’s no one. I did what I had to do. … I don’t know what else I need to do.”
Charles Oliveira, the former UFC lightweight champion, was scheduled to challenge Makhachev at UFC 294 last weekend. But Oliveira sustained a cut 12 days before the bout and had to withdraw. Alexander Volkanovski filled in on short notice, and Makhachev knocked him out with a head kick in the first round.
At the postfight news conference, UFC CEO Dana White said Oliveira is still likely to be next in line for Makhachev. That fight would likely have to happen before Makhachev begins observing Ramadan, which begins March 10, 2024. If Makhachev wins that fight and doesn’t compete again until the fall, which is his usual timeline, Gaethje said he’d be willing to wait for the title shot and not compete.
“If they want to put Oliveira in there, then I fight him in September [or next October],” Gaethje said. … “I have no issues waiting. Again, as I get older I get to understand from now until the time I’m gonna fight him I’m gonna be building strength, I’m gonna be working on my cardio, I’m gonna be refining my skills. So, I’ll take as much time as they give me and I’ll be that much more ready.”
ESPN has Makhachev ranked No. 1 in the world at lightweight, with Oliveira at No. 2 and Gaethje at No. 3.
Gaethje (25-4) has won two straight, most recently knocking out Dustin Poirier with a head kick to win the BMF belt at UFC 291 in July. The Arizona native, who trains out of Colorado, has just two losses since 2018: Oliveira and Makhachev’s longtime training partner Khabib Nurmagomedov. Both were in title fights. Gaethje, 34, has the most fight-night bonuses per fight in UFC history (12 in 12 fights).
Gaethje said he was impressed with Makhachev’s knockout over Volkanovski, the UFC featherweight champion, especially given that Makhachev is known for his wrestling and grappling.
“I think he’s out here copying my moves,” Gaethje said. “He’s obviously watching me, so, yeah. It’s good, man. I’m excited to fight him. Before the [Volkanovski] fight, I said he wasn’t Khabib, but I guess I’m just gonna have to f— around and find out, because I’m not sure.”