Safford native Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje hopes to have a victory flip in his second shot at the UFC Lightweight Championship Belt in May.
By Jon Johnson
LAS VEGAS – It appears as if Safford’s own native son Justin Gaethje will get a second title shot – this one against current UFC Lightweight Champion Charles Oliveira.
According to ESPN, UFC President Dana White advised that Oliveria will defend his title against Gaethje – the No. 1 contender – at UFC 274 on May 7. The venue has not been announced and Gaethje had hoped it would be in Oliveria’s native Brazil, but according to ESPN, the event is expected to take place in the United States.
“You only get so many opportunities to fight for a world title,” Gaethje said. “I had one and I really gotta take advantage of this one.”
Gaethje (23-3, 6-3 UFC) fell to unbeaten former UFC Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in his final fight of his career on Oct. 24, 2020. Nurmagomedov finished as champion with a 29-0 record.
With the Lightweight title vacant, Oliveria (32-8) won it with a second-round knockout of Michael Chandler. Olivera defeated Dustin Poirier by submission in UFC 269 in his first and only title defense to date.
After falling to Nurmagomedov via a chokehold, Gaethje put on the “fight of the year” with a unanimous decision against Chandler. Recently, Gaethje told a reporter that he felt the fight against Chandler was “boring” because he wanted to win the fight more than knock out his opponent. The fight has been regarded as one of the best fights in the history of the UFC.
“It was not good,” Gaethje said. “I want to go back to just wanting to hurt somebody and finish them. But, now that I have won, I got my title shot, I can go back to the way it should be.”
Oliveria previously said he would duck the No. 1 challenger to take a money fight against Connor McGregor, who broke his leg in a second straight loss to Dustin Poirier. Gaethje called McGregor “irrelevant” and demanded to be granted the next shot at Oliveria. Now, it looks like he is going to get his wish.
Gaethje said he respects Oliveria’s growth as a fighter but is excited to face him.
“He’s come a long way,” Gaethje said. “He’s grown up. He’s a man now. He’s a man with confidence, so that’s what I believe is the biggest factor . . . So, I’m excited to face that challenge.”