Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 29 May 2020

Conor McGregor 'losing so much respect' as Justin Gaethje stays focused on title clash with Khabib Nurmagomedov

American gave possibly the best performance of his career last week in the headline match-up at UFC 249

Newly crowned interim lightweight champion Justin Gaethje says Conor McGregor is "losing his clout" among fighters within the UFC, as the American homes in on a unification clash with Khabib Nurmagomedov later this year.

Gaethje, 31, gave possibly the best performance of his career last week in the headline match-up at UFC 249 in Jacksonville, Florida, when he defeated Tony Ferguson by TKO in the fifth round on the promotion’s return to live action.

The victory, hugely one-sided, marked Ferguson’s first loss in 12 years and lifted Gaethje into pole position for a shot at undefeated champion Nurmagomedov.

However, true to form, McGregor weighed in on the current state of the lightweight division. Last week, in a series of posts on social media, the controversial Irishman lashed out at all three rivals - Gaethje, Nurmagomedov and Ferguson - claiming he would “butcher” Gaethje.

McGregor, who defeated Donald Cerrone in January to snap 14 months out of competitive action, added that a fight with Gaethje would surely happen next.

Yet, speaking to ESPN, Gaethje rejected the idea, saying: "He's losing his clout. I don't mean with the general public, but with fighters, he's losing so much respect in the game, which he probably doesn't care. But to someone like me and even him, I would assume that matters a little bit.

“He doesn't hold the cards right now. I put myself in a great position. I asked for a say in my destiny, and I showed up. Now I can pick between Khabib and Conor right now. If I wanted to fight Conor right now, I could. Believe me. Why wouldn't [UFC president] Dana White put that together? But that's not the fight I want.

"I have nothing to say to him. You don't get to fight me next, unless there are crazy circumstances, where Khabib cannot fight. Then we'll fight. That's the only way. Other than that, you don't get a say.

“Dana White laughed whenever they told him Conor said he was fighting me. He said, 'No, Gaethje is fighting Khabib.' You're still worth all the money in the game, that's true. But you're losing clout when it comes to inside the game."

Gaethje (22-2) has sights firmly set on Nurmagomedov, who told White last week that he sees September as a possible date for a return to the octagon. Boasting a 28-0 record, the Dagestan native last fought in September, when he defeated Dustin Poirier on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.

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Nurmagomedov, 31, is currently observing Ramadan in his home country, and has had to deal also with his father’s recent serious illness – although Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov is said to now be recovering having reportedly slipped into a coma.

"That's the fight I want," Gaethje said of Khabib. "That's the fight I earned and deserve. It's the only fight out there for me right now.”

Asked how he would become the first man to beat Nurmagomedov, arguably the greatest wrestler in UFC history, Gaethje said: “I’ll do it the same exact way that I have done it for every single fight. I will work to be my best self.

“I’m so athletic; the first thing to go when you get tired is your legs. So from now until then, I’m going to be running a lot, jump roping a lot, lot of step-ups, a lot of squats.

"If my legs are in shape, I don’t get tired. And if I don’t get tired then I can get back up. And if I can get back up, I can hit him.

"If I can hit him, I hit like a truck. I only got to kick him 8 times in the calves before he is compromised.”

The UFC have just completed three events in Jacksonville in the space of a week, with UFC Fight Night on Sunday bringing to close a busy seven days. The next event will take place on May 30, provisionally in Las Vegas.

Updated: May 17, 2020 12:20 PM

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