Fresh off his submission loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 254 on Fight Island, Justin Gaethje was clear in his assessment that he is ‘Number One’.
Khabib announced his retirement in the Octagon immediately after choking Gaethje unconscious with a triangle choke, throwing the UFC lightweight title race wide open.
Gaethje intends to return to action shortly, and even called out former champion Conor McGregor, in the event that he walks away from his yet to be agreed fight with Dustin Poirier.
In an interview with UFC reported Megan Olivi (transcribed by Bloody Elbow) moments after the fight, Gaethje spoke about his path back to the title.
“With [Khabib] retiring, I’m number one,” Gaethje said. “[Dustin] Poirier and McGregor are going to fight. They haven’t made it official, so if McGregor wants to bounce out and get the belt, I’m right here.
“Being choked out is a nice little dream, and then it’s on to the next one. I took probably two or three shots, big shots to the head. When you get choked out, I’m not a doctor, but I believe there’s not any serious consequences to that, and I love this. And there’s a belt on the line now.”
“I Had Him In Trouble”
Despite his main event loss to Khabib, Gaethje believes he himself was close to victory when the end came in round two.
“I took probably two or three shots, big shots to the head,” he added. “I had him in trouble. I wasn’t very many kicks away from him not being able to walk. He’s going to be limping for at least three weeks. It’s nothing to be proud of, because I lost. But I felt alive and I felt great.”
“He Made His Father Proud”
As a man who expressed his own commitment to his parents in the lead up to the fight, Gaethje sympathised with Khabib over the loss of his father Abdulmanap in July. The Arizona native consoled his visibly emotional opponent after the fight.
“I hope that’s something that he really thought about,” Gaethje said of Khabib’s retirement. “I don’t believe anybody should be making decisions like that right in the cage after a fight. It’s such an emotional time, win or lose. Him especially, with the loss of his father. I can’t begin to imagine, and I don’t want to imagine, what he was going through. But as soon as the fight was over, I went over to him and said he made his father proud, and he did.”
Ready To Fight Again
While he would be ready to fight for the title again at short notice, Gaethje would be understanding if the UFC opted to give the title shot to someone else.
“If they want to give it to someone else, so be it. But I’m ready. I’m ready to fight again. This is my job. This is my life, and I love it so much.”
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