LAS VEGAS — Conor McGregor is busy preparing for next month’s megafight against Floyd Mayweather, but Justin Gaethje already has his sights set on The Notorious after a stunning UFC debut.
Gaethje said after Friday night’s Ultimate Fighter 25 Finale win over Michael Johnson that he’d like to fight No. 2-ranked contender Tony Ferguson, then grab the interim lightweight title, then challenge McGregor for the belt when (if?) the latter returns to the UFC.
That’s quite the game plan, but after Gaethje demolished his division’s No. 5 contender, it actually seems plausible.
“He (McGregor) has a fantastic left hand. If he touches me with it, I’ll go to sleep,” Gaethje admitted to reporters at T-Mobile Arena. “If not, you saw what will happen tonight.”
McGregor certainly was aware of Gaethje’s performance, as he tweeted a simple summation of the fight. But even that was notable, since The Notorious rarely discusses the UFC these days.
Gaethje was made aware of McGregor’s tweet during a UFC on FOX post-fight interview, and he seemed to appreciate it, later telling reporters: “Real recognize real. That dude’s a warrior.” But when later asked if he was surprised to be noticed by McGregor, Gaethje sounded more confident: “I’m in his weight class — he’d better be watching. … He has a big target on his back.”
Gaethje hasn’t always been complimentary of McGregor. In fact, one week before this fight, Gaethje called McGregor “a quitter” for submitting to Nate Diaz at UFC 196.
“He’ll out-talk me, that’s for damn sure, but he ain’t gonna outwork me,” Gaethje said of McGregor on the UFC Unfiltered podcast, via CBSSports.com. “His skill set is special. He’s got a great left hand. But we’ve seen him quit. He’s got quit in his heart, and once a quitter, always a quitter.”
Gaethje has some work to do if he’s to meet McGregor in the octagon, but Friday’s performance put him on the path.
Thumbnail photo via Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports Images