Since making his MMA debut, Justin ‘ The Highlight’ Gaethje has developed into one of the top lightweights in the sport. After going 17-0, the then-WSOF lightweight champion signed with the UFC.
Justin Gaethje is 6-3 in the UFC and has made a strong case for a title shot, especially with his recent performances. There is currently an ongoing debate on whether Gaethje or Islam Makhachev should receive the next title shot. UFC lightweight champion Charles Oliveira is scheduled to defend his title against Dustin Poirier at UFC 269, and both Gaethje and Makhachev will be eyeing the victor.
During his UFC 268 pre-fight media appearances, Gaethje was vocal on why he deserves the next title shot.
“If I don’t get the shot, we riot. We go to war. I have to be biased when it comes to this. I’m not going to be here for much longer, so if I were to get snubbed again then, yeah, I’d have to do something about it.”
This list will look at 5 reasons why Justin Gaethje deserves the next UFC lightweight title shot instead of Islam Makhachev.
#5. Justin Gaethje is currently the more lucrative option
Kicking off this list of reasons why Justin Gaethje deserves the next UFC lightweight title shot is he’s currently the bigger draw.
‘The Highlight’ began his UFC career with a bang as he defeated Michael Johnson by second-round TKO after a flurry of knees and punches. Since then, Gaethje has continued to prove himself. Even in defeat he remains among the top lightweights in the UFC. Gaethje's fighting style has made him a very popular fighter. His most recent bout with Michael Chandler was moved to the opener of UFC 268 and had fans on their feet.
Gaethje continues to bring that same energy in every fight. This has been demonstrated with his post-fight bonuses thus far. Out of his 9 UFC bouts, Gaethje has been awarded Fight of the Night or Performance of the Night on 8 occasions. This is significant as it shows that even after suffering a loss, Gaethje's fighting style remains exciting.
Although Makhachev has been impressive during his 9-fight win, it would be a tougher sell if he headlined a PPV. The UFC wants to generate the highest PPV buyrate they can and Gaethje appears to be a more lucrative option than Makhachev. The multiple Fight of the Night and Performance of the Night bonuses help Gaethje's case. However, Makhachev is starting to gain more momentum. And so, it would be better for him to fight another top-5 contender. Defeating another top-5 lightweight would further legitimize his winning streak and would become a great marketing tool for the UFC.
#4) Gaethje defeated a top-5 ranked opponent
Another reason why Justin Gaethje deserves the next lightweight title shot instead of Islam Makhachev is because of his wins over ranked opponents. Gaethje has consistently fought and defeated top-ranked lightweights during his UFC tenure. The same can’t be said about Makhachev. Although Makhachev has a very impressive record at 21-1, he hasn’t fought enough ranked opponents that would catapult him into a title fight.
Makhachev recently defeated sixth-ranked Dan Hooker in dominant fashion at UFC 267. It was an impressive win. But, it’s important to note that Hooker took the fight less than a month after his previous fight. Hooker defeated Nasrat Haqparast by decision at UFC 266.
Gaethje also won his most recent bout by unanimous decision. But, it was the manner in which he got the decision win that stood out. It was a slugfest between Gaethje and Michael Chandler that’ll surely be a contender for Fight of the Year. Chandler had come off a TKO loss to Charles Oliveira for the vacant UFC lightweight title. Gaethje, on the other hand, hadn’t fought since his loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov.
#3) Gaethje is an established contender at lightweight
Gaethje is an established contender in the lightweight division. Gaethje has defeated many top-5 caliber lightweights during his UFC tenure. Gaethje’s wins include Edson Barboza, Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone, Tony Ferguson, and, most recently, Michael Chandler.
The opponents as well as when Gaethje fought them should be taken into consideration. Even though he was submitted by then-UFC lightweight champion Khabib, he was able to bounce back in his first fight back. Gaethje didn’t immediately take a fight following the loss to Khabib. Instead, he was off for a little over a year before fighting Chandler at UFC 268.
Makhachev’s win over Hooker was impressive, but it should set him for a bout with Beneil Dariush instead of a title shot. Makhachev vs Dariush would make sense as a title eliminator because it’d be another win over a top-ranked lightweight. Makhachev going that route would also help his argument for a title shot because of where they both stand at lightweight.
What made Gaethje’s performance against Chandler so impressive was that there were no signs of ring rust. His timing looked like he hadn’t been out of competition for over a year. With the win over Chandler, Gaethje solidified his status as the top contender in the division.
#2) Potential for Gaethje vs Poirier 2
Justin Gaethje should get the next title shot because it could potentially lead to Gaethje vs Poirier 2. If Dustin Poirier defeats Oliveira and becomes the UFC lightweight champion at UFC 269, a rematch with Gaethje would make sense.
Gaethje and Poirier fought on a UFC on Fox event in 2018. It was a back-and-forth bout that saw Poirier pick up the win by fourth-round TKO. Both fighters were awarded the Fight of the Night bonus after a thrilling contest. Poirier benefited from that win as he went on to defeat former champion Eddie Alvarez and then Max Holloway for the interim-UFC lightweight championship.
If Poirier were to become champion and fight Gaethje again, it could generate a lot of attention. The added attention, especially after the way their first fight went, could result in a huge PPV buyrate. Both their careers have evolved since then. And so, a rematch could be the perfect headliner for April, when the UFC usually brings an event to Brooklyn, New York.
#1) Interesting matchup with Charles Oliveira
When Oliveira won the vacant title against Michael Chandler, he had to overcome some adversity in the first-round. Chandler stunned Oliveira and looked like he was closing in on a title win. But Oliveira regrouped and ended up catching Chandler and defeated him by TKO.
If Gaethje gets the next title shot, it’d be interesting to see whether he could capitalize on where Chandler couldn’t. When Gaethje fought Chandler, he put on a relentless pace and landed haymaker after haymaker on him each round. The same relentless pace was on display when Gaethje fought Tony Ferguson last year as well. Gaethje was able to find an answer to Ferguson’s grappling and unorthodox striking.
With that in mind, it’d be interesting to see if Gaethje can replicate that performance against Oliveira. The Brazilian not only holds the record for most finishes in UFC history, but he also has the most submission wins. While also factoring in Gaethje consistently having Fight of the Night, a Gaethje vs Oliveira bout would definitely interest fans.
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