When Khabib Nurmagomedov faced flight restrictions in Russia, Justin Gaethje stepped up and took a short-notice fight against Tony Ferguson at UFC 249.
With most expecting Ferguson to win and set up the Nurmagomedov fight for the sixth time, Gaethje defeated him and became the interim lightweight champion.
Although president Dana White is determined to unify the belts at some point, Conor McGregor called out Gaethje and the rest of the lightweight division.
As Gaethje is only focused on Nurmagomedov now, he responded to McGregor’s callout after trying to fight him before, according to Brett Okamoto of ESPN:
“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.”
While Gaethje personally believes McGregor is ‘losing so much respect in the game,’ he wants to fight him ‘because I’m trying to cash in’ after Nurmagomedov:
“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.”
As Gaethje contradicted himself when speaking about financials, the reality is McGregor is still the face of the UFC and every fighter wants the money fight.
With Gaethje taking a major risk by fighting Ferguson and being rewarded with a win, there is no question he has leverage and should fight Nurmagomedov next.
However, due to Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov’s health concerns, it is unclear when his son will return, but White mentioned they were discussing September now.
If Nurmagomedov is still unable to fight come September, it is very possible the lightweight division moves forward with a Gaethje vs. McGregor fight then.