Justin Gaethje lashed out at Dana White after the UFC president said Conor McGregor would fight for the lightweight title next if successful in his return to the octagon against Donald Cerrone at UFC 246.
Gaethje (21-2 MMA, 3-2 UFC) has been pushing for a title shot at 155 pounds after putting together three consecutive first-round knockouts, the most recent of which came against Cerrone at UFC on ESPN+ 16 in September.
Much to Gaethje’s confusion, though, he could be upstaged by McGregor’s (21-4 MMA, 9-2 UFC) one performance on Jan. 18, despite the bout being contested at welterweight. White pointed to McGregor’s resume and accomplishments in the sport, as well as Gaethje allegedly turning down fights, as the reason for “The Notorious” being a win over “Cowboy” away from challenging for the gold.
“C’mon guys, look what Conor’s done over the last however many years,” White told ESPN on Thursday. “Then he loses to Khabib (Nurmagomedov) in a fight that was – when you talk about bad blood – it’s like the next level of bad blood. Gaethje was on his way up, too. We’ve offered Gaethje a lot of fights that Gaethje hasn’t taken, either. So Conor’s in line next for (a title) fight if he beats ‘Cowboy.’”
Gaethje recently told MMA Junkie his intention was to wait for the winner of the Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson lightweight title bout, which is scheduled for April 18 in Brooklyn. He was also open to the possibility of being a replacement fighter, but would want the cost of his training camp covered.
It appears as though McGregor has jumped ahead of him for both those scenarios. White revealed the Irishman has the intention of beating Cerrone and preparing himself to step in should the ill-fated Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson matchup be called off for a fifth time.
“Conor wants to fight three times this year and he’s hoping that if he beats ‘Cowboy’ he can turn right around and fight Khabib,” White said. “But that timing and math isn’t going to work out. But you know Conor. Conor thinks the way Conor thinks. His thing is, ‘I’ll fight ‘Cowboy,’ I’ll beat ‘Cowboy’ and I’ll be ready to fight Khabib at 155 if anything happens.’ Because we’re going into Khabib-Tony again. So in Conor’s mind, Conor would be ready for that fight.”
Although White is saying this now, there’s still more than a month until McGregor fights Cerrone, and more than four months until Nurmagomedov fights Ferguson. The landscape has the potential to change dramatically over that time frame, and White said his focus is on the first step, which involves getting McGregor back in the octagon at UFC 246.
“We’re getting through this one first,” White said. “We’re getting through the ‘Cowboy’ fight, and the level of disrespect shown to ‘Cowboy’ through this whole thing, apparently everybody forgot. ‘Cowboy’ lost two in a row? ‘Cowboy’ has lost two in a row before and come back and gone on unbelievable runs. So let’s not count ‘Cowboy’ out.”