Justin Gaethje is back for UFC gold. He thinks that the current champion poses less threat to the sport than the former champ.
Gaethje will challenge Charles Oliveira to win the lightweight title at UFC 274,, which is taking place in Phoenix at Footprint Center. It’s Gaethje’s second attempt to become undisputed champion after a loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 254 in October 2020. Gaethje was submitted by Nurmagomedov who is widely considered the best lightweight fighter in MMA history. He needed just one-and-a half rounds.
Comparing that fight to his matchup against Oliveira, Gaethje saw Nurmagomedov a totally different animal from his opponent.
” They are definitely not the same person,” Gaethje stated. Khabib is certainly less dangerous than Charles. He is better at taking damage than Khabib, as we have seen many times. Charles was a child that all of us watched grow up, so my critique is not about him. Now we are talking about an adult with confidence. It’s a different person, but ultimately the same Charles is still there.
“The same Charles that fought Cub Swanson. Charles the same Charles who fought Donald Cerrone. Charles the same Charles who fought Pettis. He made choices and he chose to stop fighting. I will give that option to him on Saturday night. .”
The book on Oliveira used to be that he was an exceptional talent who couldn’t beat top competition and who also struggled to make weight when he was competing at 145 pounds. However, following a 10-8 (1 NC) start to his career, Oliveira has rattled off 10 straight wins at lightweight, becoming UFC champion and knocking off contenders like Dustin Poirier, Michael Chandler, Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee.
So has Oliveira done enough to overcome that past narrative?
“I believe that it’s true. However, once you are a coward, you will always be a coward,” Gaethje stated. He is not a coward. But, I am saying it’s — that you cannot just take away. It’s there. Khabib never showed you that, and that’s why you can’t compare those two.”
Gaethje spoke out about his regrets from the Nurmagomedov fight. He said that he preferred to fight defensively rather than using an aggressive style. The 33-year-old is known as one of the most exciting fighters in the history of MMA and plans to show that side of himself when he steps into the cage with Oliveira.
” My tactic was to evade [against Nurmagomedov],. That’s my first and only attempt at that strategy, which won’t work on Saturday,” Gaethje stated. “If he marches through me, then good for him, but I won’t be moving backward.”
Oliveira won the vacant UFC lightweight title following Nurmagomedov’s retirement; he finished Chandler via strikes at UFC 262 and then defended the belt by submitting Poirier at UFC 260. In both bouts, the Brazilian champ showed he could overcome adversity before finding a stoppage.
That wounded animal aspect of Oliveira’s game is one that Gaethje is well aware of and prepared for.
” That is the normal way to fight,” Gaethje stated. “When you choose fight over flight, that’s the only way. Yes, he did a fantastic job. His opponents made some serious mistakes, I believe. Chandler: I believe Chandler sex too much in the first round. He was also way too confident, which is why his shot was so successful. He forgot how much danger he was in.
“If they’re awake, they’re dangerous. A person on the verge of death is dangerous. This applies especially if they are choosing to fight. You can never take your foot off the gas and you can never be overconfident in that arena because anything, anytime, that’s why I’m such a fan of this sport. One shot .”
Gaethje held interim gold previously, beating Ferguson by fifth round TKO at UFC 249. He sees some similar traits in Oliveira and promises to meet the champion head-on.
” I create car accidents, and I’m the one with the greatest force,” Gaethje stated. “Same mass. If he wants to play the game, I’m more than happy. He won’t. He’ll have to.
” This will be exactly like Tony Ferguson. He will try to get this to the ground, and he will be stuck fighting my fight. That’s the name of the game.”