Gaethje 'can't wait' to face Khabib
MANILA, Philippines – After taking the interim belt, Justin "The Highlight" Gaethje said he's ready to face defending UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Gaethje (22-2) got the UFC Interim Lightweight crown after upsetting Tony "El Cucuy" Ferguson (25-4) via Round 5 TKO in UFC 249 on Sunday, May 10, at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.
The 31-year-old fighter said he's ready to represent the United States against the reigning champion in Russia.
"I can’t wait to face the challenge [from Khabib]," Gaethje said. "This is why we're here. He owes it to me to try to kill me and I'm gonna do the same."
The No. 4 fighter in the lightweight division had the upper hand all throughout the match and pounded Ferguson with heavy punches.
But Gaethje remained patient until the last round where he connected the left hand that stunned his foe.
"The Highlight" said he learned not to be complacent from his previous fights against the best of the lightweight division.
"I've made the same mistakes [in the] Dustin Poirier and Eddie Alvarez fights," Gaethje said. “I became complacent. I started having too much fun. I didn't worry about getting hit and then they hit me in the right spot at the right time. I had to make an adjustment and I can't let that happen anymore."
Gaethje, who was a last-minute replacement for Khabib, ended the 12-fight streak of the No. 1 contender.
Ferguson’s face turned into a punching bag and ended up with cuts and bruises. But like the fans, Gaethje was also surprised that Ferguson did not fall to the canvass and simply absorbed all the solid hits coming his way.
"I think most people would have [gone] to sleep," he said.
"I never saw quit in [Ferguson's] eyes. As a fighter, you understand that emotions are very different in there. Your face can't lie, but his face never told me he was done. I commend him on how tough he is, that's why I’m such a huge fan of him."
Right after the fight, Gaethje threw the interim title to the side and said he wanted the real belt. But during the post-match interview, Gaethje clarified that it feels fantastic to hold the interim crown.
"That's the competitor in me – you can never be satisfied. When I got the belt, I want the next one," he said.
"I am proud to hold this belt, it feels good. Not many people in the world, much less fighters in the UFC, get to achieve this so it feels fantastic and I should enjoy it." – Rappler.com