Justin Gaethje frank on Islam Makhachev fight as ‘traumatic life event’ looms at UFC 300

Justin Gaethje has seemingly ruled out challenging for the UFC lightweight title in June, focusing on Saturday’s bout with Max Holloway and saying: “I don’t usually plan on being alive the day after my fights.”

Gaethje has been linked to a shot against 155lbs champion Islam Makhachev since knocking out Dustin Poirier in July, and that title fight was initially rumoured for June. With Gaethje and Makhachev sharing a manager, it was thought that the contest would come together quickly.

Instead, however, Gaethje will defend the ‘Baddest Motherf***er’ title against Holloway at UFC 300 this weekend, having claimed the belt with his win over Poirier. Saturday’s fight complicates the lightweight title picture, with Gaethje admitting he is unlikely to be fit again by June.

“I don’t play what ifs, but you don’t pass up a championship opportunity,” the American said. “[But] I do want my time, I do think June would probably be impossible for me, as every time I fight is a traumatic life experience.

“I need to go home, unwind, take care of my body, take care of my head, but I have coaches and a manager that ultimately make those decisions. So, if they say go, I go.

“I’m a quarter-mile at a time kind of guy. I do not look too far ahead. I honestly have no clue what the future holds. I don’t usually plan on being alive the day after my fights, so hopefully I’m there on Sunday.”

A Holloway victory on Saturday (13 April) would further complicate the lightweight title picture. The Hawaiian, widely deemed one of the greatest featherweights ever, will face Gaethje at 155lbs, having last fought at lightweight in 2019. On that occasion, Holloway was outpointed by Poirier with the interim title on the line.

Gaethje celebrates his knockout win over Dustin Poirier (Getty Images)
Gaethje celebrates his knockout win over Dustin Poirier (Getty Images)

“I’ll know early if he’s punching hard enough for me to take chances or be more cautious,” Gaethje said. “I think this is very different from the time he fought Poirier, as that was a late replacement. I think he’s had this whole camp, being able to keep and maintain that weight. I do think he’s going to be as big as me and as strong as me.”

Saturday’s fight between Charles Oliveira and Arman Tsarukyan could also have ramifications atop the lightweight division, with Oliveira having been set to challenge Makhachev in October – only for the bout to be cancelled when the Brazilian suffered a cut over his eye.

Makhachev won the vacant lightweight belt by submitting Oliveira, the previous champion, in October 2022. Attempts were made to reschedule their rematch for early 2024, but they proved unsuccessful. As such, Oliveira faces a rising contender in Tsarukyan.

“I know with a win here, I fight for the belt,” Gaethje said. “I know with a loss here, that all goes away. That’s what I’m fighting for.

“There’s going to be two contenders coming out of this fight night: the winner of Tsarukyan-Oliveira [...] and the winner of Holloway and myself. I believe Makhachev is going to fight at least twice this year, and so I think we’ll both fight him.”