Shortly after the new UFC 249 headliner was announced, Justin Gaethje sent out the following message over social media: “I’m terrified and I f—-en’ love it.”
Gaethje, who will face Tony Ferguson for the interim lightweight championship on April 18, will be fighting at an as yet to be announced location during a worldwide pandemic. He’ll also be locking horns with an opponent who has been in camp preparing for a showdown with Khabib Nurmagomedov. It’s a lot of uncharted territory for the former World Series of Fighting title holder.
“Every time I’ve ever fought, there’s never been this many unknowns — much less the unknowns we’re dealing with right now. It’s just really a terrifying moment, and I’m talking about the competition side. I know what I’m facing,” Gaethje told TMZ Sports.
“Tony’s been getting ready to face Khabib Nurmagomedov, to fight for a world title. But it’s perfect because I always think they’re working harder, I always think they’re better than me, I always think they’re luckier than me and I love to face adversity. So I’m facing my fears right now and I think that’s what we all need to do.”
Gaethje is notoriously averse to accepting short-notice fights. However, when Nurmagomedov revealed he was stranded in Russia due to travel restrictions, the UFC needed a dance partner for Ferguson. Gaethje was intrigued by the stakes, and ultimately jumped at the opportunity after some debate with his team.
“No, I haven’t [taken a short-notice fight like this before], but I’ve also never been offered a UFC title,” Gaethje said. “That’s the only thing I’m working for. That’s all I’ve been working for since the beginning so I’m ready to gamble.
“There’s very few people who would sign up for what me and Tony just signed up for — including most UFC fighters. A lot of guys will say that they’re ready but a lot of guys would not put their name on that dotted line.”
Gaethje, who enters UFC 249 on a three-fight winning streak, believes his stock won’t suffer even if he comes up short against “El Cucuy.”
“If I lose, then where are we at? It’s in the same exact spot we’re in right now,” Gaethje said. “I’m gonna go out there and get a paycheck, which is nice, but ultimately, I get a chance for glory. Heroes live forever, legends never die, and I’m literally here to make a statement. My name will be carried on far longer after I’m here because of my effort, my work ethic and the skills I possess.”
While Gaethje hasn’t had a full camp to prepare, he is nonetheless confident in his skills. He’s already made peace with all possible outcomes in the fight.
“I got the perfect dance partner that I dream about. He thrives in dark places, he doesn’t get tired, he’s got cardio for days and I hit like a Mack Truck. When I hit him, he’ll go to sleep,” Gaethje said.
“I possess some of the best finishing skills on the UFC roster. I’m gonna attack his body, I’m gonna attack his legs, and whenever he’s worried about those I’m gonna punch him in the head and hopefully, he goes to sleep. If not, he’s probably going to cut me up with some elbows, probably choke me out late in the fight if I don’t put him to sleep. I’m content with every single one of those scenarios as long as I get to go in there and I don’t disappoint myself, or my family. That’s my only goal.”
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