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5 potential opponents for Justin Gaethje after his latest setback at UFC 274

UFC 274: Justin Gaethje
UFC 274: Justin Gaethje
Erik Sloan

Justin Gaethje has once again fallen short at getting the undisputed UFC belt wrapped around his waist. There's no shame in this; there can only be one champion. Moreover, he's lost these opportunities against two of the very best lightweights to compete in recent times. Both Khabib Nurmagomedov and Charles Oliveira were able to submit 'The Highlight'.

Charles Oliveira sinks in the RNC on Justin Gaethje after a wild back and forth slobberknocker. 4/4 stars #UFC274 https://t.co/bQWcLk5dia

Though these are shortcomings, they're also testament to how strong Gaethje's will is. He gets knocked down, but he certainly gets back up with a vengeance. At only 33-years-old, the future is still bright for 'The Highlight'.

The two title opportunities Gaethje has rolled the dice on weren't exactly favorable for him stylistically. The division moves fast and there may be a favorable matchup for Gaethje to win gold against down the road. MMA is full of surprises, and it's not time to count the Arizonan out yet.

Here are 5 potential opponents for Justin Gaethje after his latest setback at UFC 274:


#5. Justin Gaethje vs. Beneil Dariush/Islam Makhachev

UFC Fight Night: Makhachev v Moises
UFC Fight Night: Makhachev v Moises

It's quite unclear what the UFC is wanting to do with the previously booked Islam Makhachev and Beneil Dariush bout. Dana White has mentioned that he wants to rebook it, but also seems excited at the thought of the Dagestani fighter challenging Oliveira.

Islam Makhachev thinks the champ is ducking him 😳 (via @MAKHACHEVMMA) https://t.co/akOrufPeDf

Assuming that the UFC rebooks this title-eliminator bout, then Gaethje would fit right in to take on the loser of the bout. Both Beneil Dariush and Islam Makhachev have great wrestling and submission skills, but Gathje has the ability to end the fight at any given moment when he's on his feet.

Furthermore, it wouldn't drop him too far down the ranks. A win against either Dariush or Makhachev would propel him back into the title conversation rather quickly. Though both Dariush and Makhachev are more of the aforementioned unfavorable stylistic matchups, the winner of the two would probably be the quickest route back to the belt for the champion-hopeful.


#4. Justin Gaethje vs. Dustin Poirier 2

UFC 236: Dustin Poirier
UFC 236: Dustin Poirier

Regardless of the rankings and title implications, this is a fight that fans want to see for a second time. When Justin Gaethje and Dustin Poirier initially met in 2018, the expectation was set for it to be an instant classic. The two fighters went above and beyond that expectation and delivered one of the most violent fights in UFC history.

Watch the highlights below:

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Both fighters are ultimately after gold, though. With Gaethje and 'The Diamond' coming off losses to Charles Oliveira, they both need to rack up wins to rise to title contention again, if at all. The winner could easily state their claim as the next in line to rematch the Brazilian number one contender.

Lightweight might be the toughest division to earn a title shot in -- the champions are always dominant, the top five at lightweight is steeped in talent, and there are some very popular names in the mix. If either Gaethje or Poirier can finish the other emphatically, that'll help them to potentially leapfrog other contenders.


#3. Justin Gaethje against winner of Rafael dos Anjos vs. Rafael Fiziev

UFC 272: Rafael dos Anjos
UFC 272: Rafael dos Anjos

Though he's more silent than the others, RDA is still a force to be reckoned with when discussing lightweight. Most recently, taking on the short notice Renato Moicano in a catchweight bout, he looked better than ever as he secured a unanimous decision victory over the course of five rounds.

He is The One 🤯Can @RafaelFiziev enter the Matrix once again at #UFC256? https://t.co/ctC4wGasCL

This summer, the former lightweight champion will be taking on rising contender Rafael Fiziev at the UFC Apex. 'Ataman' has an extensive background in Muay Thai and is currently riding a wave of five consecutive victories in the UFC.

Whoever wins between dos Anjos and Fiziev will undoubtedly be in the discussion of top contenders. Gaethje could still be capable of winning the lightweight title should he put in the effort, and taking on the winner of dos Anjos vs. Fiziev would be a great rebound fight for 'The Highlight'. Should the Russian manage to beat the Brazilian, a fight between Gaethje and Fiziev would be absolute fireworks.


#2. Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler 2

UFC 274: Michael Chandler after defeating Tony Ferguson
UFC 274: Michael Chandler after defeating Tony Ferguson

Nobody should further doubt 'Iron' Michael Chandler following his UFC 274 performance. Tony Ferguson has been stopped before, but never in the manner that Chandler finished him. The Sanford MMA fighter put an abrupt stop to his losing streak at the expense of 'El Cucuy' and is now right back in the mix again.

Michael Chandler just sent Tony Ferguson to the SHADOW REALM https://t.co/8r3b9JMPqC

Justin Gaethje and Chandler met not too long ago. It was 2021 when the two put on an all-time great fight and performed in what became the Fight of the Year. Both of these fighters are ones that, ten times out of ten, put on an exciting performance.

Given how murky the waters are in the lightweight division currently, it's not farfetched to think that the two will soon meet once more in hopes of yet another title shot.


#1. Justin Gaethje vs. Conor McGregor

UFC 264: Conor McGregor
UFC 264: Conor McGregor

What a fight this would be. With two of the most vicious strikers, two fighters that don't like each other, and two competitors looking to have their hands raised once more -- McGregor potentially meeting 'The Highlight' will result in fireworks.

'The Notorious' has been sidelined since a leg injury ended his trilogy match against his rival from Louisiana, Dustin Poirier. His recovery seems to be going according to plan, and he's frequently been posting training clips on social media.

Justin Gaethje would absolutely love this fight. First of all, it's Conor McGregor. Secondly, Gaethje has a great chance in any fight that'll mostly take place on the feet. Both fighters seem tailor-made for each other from a competitive standpoint; it would be fascinating to see who would come out on top.

Journalist Ariel Helwani also recently opined that Conor McGregor vs. Justin Gaethje would make for a perfect return fight for the Irishman.

Edited by Avinash Tewari

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