Justin Gaethje Sounds Off on Fighting UFC Lightweight King Islam Makhachev

Justin Gaethje, Islam Makhachev and Khabib Nurmagomedov

Getty Justin Gaethje, Islam Makhachev and Khabib Nurmagomedov

If Justin Gaethje receives his third crack at undisputed UFC lightweight gold, he said that he can knock out Islam Makhachev and take his crown.

Gaethje spoke with TMZ around two weeks after his last Octagon outing. He defended his top-five ranking by turning back the streaking Rafael Fiziev via majority decision at UFC 286 on March 19. It was Gaethje’s first fight since his second failed attempt at securing the division’s strap. “The Highlight” fought Charles Oliveira at UFC 274 and was forced to submit to a rear-naked choke in the first round.

Since Gaethje is back in the win column, he’s looking toward a top-contender fight with either Dustin Poirier or the loser of the upcoming UFC 288 co-main event between Oliveira and Beneil Dariush.

Gaethje Said He Has the Power to Knock Out Anybody, Including Makhachev

And if he’s ever locked inside the cage with Makhachev, Gaethje believes he can get the job done even though it’s a “hard fight.”

“Yeah, I think it’s a hard fight,” Gaethje said about the potential pairing. “[It’s] a hard fight for anybody. Obviously, he’s the champion for a reason. Just create damage — I’d have the fight the perfect fight similar to the fight I just fought, similar to the fight I fought against Tony Ferguson where I control space any time they enter my space. I create damage. And that allows me the space that I need to perform.

“Obviously a lot of grappling — I’m not going to become better at submission grappling than him right now. But, the cardiovascular capacity that I would have to gain to fight that fight comfortably would be the primary focus, absolutely.”

“I think I can knock him out,” Gaethje continued. “I think I can knock out anybody, obviously, with the power that I possess.”

Gaethje Compared Makhachev to His Former Opponent Khabib Nurmagomedov

Gaethje received his first opportunity at winning the undisputed UFC lightweight title in 2020. He fought then-champion Khabib Nurmagomedov as the interim belt holder. Unfortunately for Gaethje, he was beaten by “The Eagle” within two rounds. He was choked unconscious courtesy of Nurmagomedov’s triangle choke.

With the 29-0 fighter living the life of retirement, his teammate and friend Makhachev has taken over his old throne. Gaethje told the outlet that although  Nurmagomedov and Makhachev are similar fighters, there is a glaring difference.

“I think they’re very similar,” Gaethje said. “I think the biggest difference is Islam has been finished. You know, he’s lost a fight. He’s been finished and so that aura of invisibility is there but it’s not based on 100-percent facts like Khabib had. I think that’s the biggest factor, the biggest difference.

“I think Khabib knows that I create damage. I created damage in that fight and Islam also saw that fight. So, I think it’s going to be a very similar fight to the Khabib fight. But, I don’t need to be on my back foot as much. I need to create more angles and create more damage early on.”

Makhachev has a professional MMA record of 24-1. He’s riding a 12-fight win streak which began after his knockout defeat to Adriano Martins at UFC 192 in 2015.

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