Justin Gaethje, the UFC’s newly crowned interim lightweight champion, had a pretty simple response to Conor McGregor‘s recent demands to fight him next: No.
Gaethje (22-2) is coming off arguably the best performance of his career, a fifth-round TKO victory over Tony Ferguson for the interim title at UFC 249 last weekend. Gaethje’s win, which he referred to as a “masterpiece,” should set up a high-profile 155-pound title unification bout against undefeated champion Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0) later this year.
On Monday, however, former lightweight champion McGregor (22-4) brashly promised to “butcher” Gaethje in the Octagon, and guaranteed he would face Gaethje next.
In an exclusive interview with ESPN on Friday, Gaethje dismissed McGregor’s chances as his next opponent.
“He’s losing his clout,” Gaethje said. “I don’t mean with the general public, but with fighters, he’s losing so much respect in the game, which he probably doesn’t care. But to someone like me and even him, I would assume that matters a little bit. He doesn’t hold the cards right now. I put myself in a great position. I asked for a say in my destiny, and I showed up. Now I can pick between Khabib and Conor right now. If I wanted to fight Conor right now, I could. Believe me. Why wouldn’t [UFC president] Dana White put that together? But that’s not the fight I want.
“I have nothing to say to him. You don’t get to fight me next, unless there are crazy circumstances, where Khabib cannot fight. Then we’ll fight. That’s the only way. Other than that, you don’t get a say. Dana White laughed whenever they told him Conor said he was fighting me. He said, ‘No, Gaethje is fighting Khabib.’ You’re still worth all the money in the game, that’s true. But you’re losing clout when it comes to inside the game.”
As far as a title unification bout against Nurmagomedov, Gaethje mentioned September as a possible time. White has said the same, regarding a date for the fight.
“That’s the fight I want,” Gaethje said. “That’s the fight I earned and deserve. It’s the only fight out there for me right now.”
That said, Gaethje believes he will face McGregor sooner or later inside the Octagon. The 31-year-old former collegiate wrestler has called McGregor out in the past, and even posted screenshots of a direct message he sent to the Irish superstar, asking him to accept a bout against him in Ireland.
Whether McGregor should take another fight in the meantime, Gaethje said he didn’t particularly care.
“I’m here to make money,” Gaethje said. “When I beat Khabib, I will fight Conor because I’m trying to cash in. Whether he fights or not — do I think he should fight? Absolutely. But there are so many jokes you could make about his next fight. I don’t know who he’d fight. One of the main requirements is you have to be coming off a loss.”