For the second fight in a row, Justin Gaethje capped off a main event with a highlight reel knockout — this time snuffing Edson Barboza in the first round in Philadelphia.
Gaethje has a reputation for always putting on memorable performances but with back-to-back finishes against Barboza and James Vick, he’s starting to climb up the lightweight rankings as well.
While he wasn’t in the mood to call out anybody in particular — outside of lamenting that Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone somehow jumped him in the rankings just recently — Gaethje knows that he’s on an eventual collision course with lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
“I’m on my way to Khabib and I want to fight him,” Gaethje said during the UFC Fight Night post fight show on ESPN+. “I think I’m the toughest matchup for him.
“My wrestling, you guys haven’t seen it yet, I wrestled for 22 years, the last match I ever wrestled was in this arena. The NCAA tournament, I lost, and I was very excited to come back.”
You might not know it based on his usual game plan to march forward and assassinate his opponent’s chin with punches but Gaethje was a Division I NCAA All-American wrestler at Northern Colorado.
Knowing that he has that wrestling at his disposal, Gaethje has long believed that he could give Nurmagomedov nightmares if the undefeated Russian wasn’t able to drag him to the mat.
For now, Gaethje will have to continue his climb up the ranks before he gets to a title shot and it sounds like he’s ready to face whoever the UFC puts in front of him.
“When the time comes, it’s kill or be killed,” Gaethje said. “If it’s [Paul Felder] and me, I don’t care who it is. It could be you, it could be Nate [Diaz], it could be Donald [Cerrone], it could be Khabib [Nurmagomedov]. I don’t care.”