The UFC Philadelphia main event ended in predictably violent fashion as Justin Gaethje starched Edson Barboza in round one. Back-to-back wins for Gaethje, accompanied by yet another fight of the night bonus has catapulted him into the minds of fight fans as a potential contender for undefeated champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
“I want each and every one of them.”
Speaking in the aftermath of his main event victory, Gaethje seemed to note he’s got some work to do before he can call for a shot at the UFC gold, but he wants it. “There are five or six guys in front of me. I want each and every one of them,” said Gaethje.
He also told post-fight media he believes he can dethrone the champion. “I want to be champion. I want to fight Khabib; I think I’m one of the biggest threats to his title and that’s my goal. Whoever I have to go through,” Gaethje.
Let’s meet the top contenders at lightweight
The latest set of UFC rankings have Gaethje at number 5, with Al Iaqunita (#4), Dustin Poirier (#3), Conor McGregor (#2) and Tony Ferguson (#1) sitting ahead of him. Despite a post-fight call out from Paul Felder, Gaethje is probably one good win away from a title shot and should only be looking at those ahead of him. In Gaethje's own words he wants them all, so, let's take a look at them all and map out his route to the title.
Al Iaquinta sits at number four after his impressive win against Kevin Lee. The match-up, whilst interesting for fight fans, lacks the star appeal of the other contenders. A win over Al Iaquinta would bump his ranking, but do little in terms of earning a title shot. Whilst Gaethje’s riding a wave of popularity after two big KO wins, his advisers should be aiming slightly higher than Iaquinta, for more money, eyes, and a shot at the belt.
Dustin Poirier is on the hottest streak of his career, he seems to be hitting his peak over his past few fights. Having gotten victories over Eddie Alvarez and Anthony Pettis as well as Gaethje, he now faces featherweight king Max Holloway in his 155-pound. debut for the interim title. The winner of this fight seems to have the next shot at the title to unify the titles. It’s all a matter of does the UFC take the bold step of stripping the champion who’s side-lined due to a suspension. A rematch against Poirier is every fight fan’s dream as we would get to relive 2018’s fight of the year. Should Max Holloway make the successful step up to lightweight, his 100mph style will mesh perfectly with Gaethje making for the most brutal spectacle. Either man provides a stern yet winnable match-up, that sells tickets, PPV’s and makes for a whole lot of fun.
Conor McGregor announced his retirement last week, but most fans remain unconvinced if we have seen the last of him inside the Octagon. Dana White has even said the UFC plans to meet with McGregor in the near future to make him happy and that he has not officially retired. This would certainly be the most lucrative of the fights, as everyone knows, “its red panty night when you get that Conor McGregor call.” The UFC have suddenly decided non-title fights cannot headline PPV events, which is a ridiculous move considering two of their highest PPV’s featured McGregor in bouts with no title on the line. This hurdle will need to be overcome to make this fight as McGregor has already declined at least one fight because it was not the main event. A preferable fight for fans, as the style match-up promises a war between two great strikers. McGregor, whilst a problem with his pinpoint precision and heavy hands, is certainly beatable for Gaethje, who would be assured of a title shot with a win. Keep your eyes peeled for movement on this situation as UFC continue to attempt to pull McGregor back to the sport. A fight against Gaethje may just do that.
Tony Ferguson sits on top of the lightweight rankings, riding an 11-fight win streak that stretches all the way back to 2013. Never has a man deserved a crack at the title more than Ferguson. Several last-minute fall outs have continued to separate Ferguson from Nurmagomedov as it seems the MMA gods don’t want us to see this one. Ferguson’s current status remains unclear, it has been revealed he is struggling with some mental health issues, as well as some family troubles. Provided Ferguson is fit and well to fight, it’s certainly another great style match-up for fight fans. Both men have a wild style and you can be certain of being entertained for as long as this scrap lasts. A win for Gaethje guarantees a shot at the 155-pound belt, as Ferguson has appeared to be next in line for what feels like an eternity.
Gaethje’s path to UFC glory will need to go through one or more of these men. The UFC’s lightweight division is the most stacked and entertaining in all of MMA and Gaethje is a massive part of what makes it so great.
Being in consistently fun fights won’t be enough though. Gaethje will need to beat the best, something he’s not been able to do so far in the UFC. However, back-to-back KO wins, a slight shift in style and a boat load of fans have him primed to be a true contender at 155lbs.nAnother big win against one of these killers, and his calls for a title shot will be undeniable.