Justin Gaethje is eyeing a clash with Khabib Nurmagomedov, insisting there is “no other challenge I want right now” after crushing Tony Ferguson at UFC 249.
Gaethje became the interim lightweight champion after scoring a brutal final-round stoppage of Ferguson in Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday.
The UFC made its long-awaited return behind closed doors amid the coronavirus pandemic, which prevented the event from taking place on the original date of April 18 in Brooklyn, N.Y. Travel restrictions then stopped unbeaten lightweight holder Nurmagomedov from fighting in the United States, leading Gaethje to fill in for the Russian against Ferguson.
After snapping Ferguson’s 12-fight winning streak and leaving his fellow American bloodied, Gaethje (22-2) turned his attention to Khabib.
UFC 249 RESULTS: Gaethje crushes Ferguson; Cejudo goes out as a champion
“Khabib is the best in the world,” Gaethje said in the Octagon afterward. “I’ve been working since I was 4 for challenges like this and I’m happy to represent the United States of America against Dagestan or Russia’s best.
“He’s 28-0 and there’s no other challenge I want right now. I want to fight him.”
Gaethje stepped up to meet Ferguson (25-4) in the Octagon and he dished out relentless punishment to stun the former interim holder in a wild contest.
Ferguson was left bloodied and bruised as a jab to the head shocked him, prompting the referee to crown Gaethje winner by TKO in the fifth round.
Gaethje was the aggressor from the outset in the main event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.
“I told my coaches, ‘You’re not gonna like it, but I’m ready to die tonight,'” Gaethje, who extended his winning streak to four, said afterward. “That’s the mentality you have to come in there with.”
Said Ferguson, who later was taken to a local hospital: “Justin is a tough son of a b—, I’ll be real. I was prepared for Khabib, not a striker.”