Justin Gaethje caused ripples through the top of the lightweight division when he defeated Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 to claim the interim title. The victory, hugely dominant and secured via a fifth-round TKO, looks to have set up a unification bout later this year against undefeated champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Gaethje, who won bonuses for fight of the night and performance of the night, has since given his thoughts on a possible showdown with Nurmagomedov, Ferguson’s fortitude, and representing his country against arguably Russia’s No 1 athlete.
On throwing to the floor the interim belt when it was presented to him inside the octagon on Sunday:
“It’s the competitor in me. I am proud to hold this belt. It feels good; not many people in world, much less fighters in the UFC, get to achieve this. So it feels fantastic and I should enjoy it. But that was the competitor in me. You can never be satisfied. When I get the belt I want the next one.”
On Ferguson’s ability to take his thumping shots:
“I think most people would have went to sleep. Not even if they didn’t go to sleep, they would have quit. I never saw quit in his eyes. As a fighter you understand, emotions are very, very different in there; your face can’t lie. His face never told me he was done. I commend him for how tough he is. That’s why I’m such a huge fan of his.”
On his message to Khabib ahead of potential unification bout:
“I can’t wait to face the challenge. He was at a lot of my fights when I was in the World Series of Fighting because his brother was fighting there. We’re competitors, this is why we’re here. He owes it to me to try and kill me and I’m going to do the same.”
On what it would mean to represent America against Russia:
"It's unbelievable. As an athlete you can only dream of something that. I didn't go to the Olympics. I wrestled for the University of Northern Colorado, for the Stafford High School, but to represent the greatest nation on earth … I hope the people can get behind me because there's not many times they have got behind one fighter. We're a melting pot and I'm so proud of that. I'm half-Mexican; I'm Mexican-American. It makes me proud."