Justin Gaethje has a triple goal for UFC 291’s main event this weekend: defeat Dustin Poirier, win the BMF belt, and get Jorge Masvidal to put the belt on him.
Masvidal won the inaugural BMF title when he defeated Nate Diaz at Madison Square Garden at UFC 244, and now, following Masvidal’s retirement, the UFC has decided to bring back the symbolic title. Gaethje will take on Poirier, Masvidal’s longtime teammate at American Top Team, for the belt in Salt Lake City on Saturday night, and “The Highlight” said he’d love nothing more than to get Masvidal to put the belt around his waist.
“Yeah, I want to make him do it,” he told reporters during media day in Salt Lake City.
“That would be nice. I know he’ll hate it, so I’ll love it that much more.”
In order for that to happen, Gaethje will have to reverse his fortunes against Poirier, who defeated him in their first meeting back in 2018. Since that bout, both men have ascended to further heights in the UFC lightweight division. Now, with both men having previously held interim lightweight gold and challenged twice each for the undisputed title, they’re set to meet again in a bout that Gaethje himself said was a virtual coin-flip fight.
“I’ve accepted that this is a 50/50 fight in my mind. With the chance at retribution, it’s been driving me every day to work harder,” he said.
“I think I have to be more technical, no matter what. Obviously, I’m willing to fight fire with fire. That’s what we do in this game. But I’m going to try to be as methodical as possible and make no mistakes. At this level, it’s mistakes. Take advantage of their mistakes and make no mistakes.”
The first meeting between the pair was a thrilling clash, and the rematch is shaping up to be even better. Throw in the BMF title, and the potential for the bout to be a number-one contender fight for the lightweight division, and the stakes are even higher the second time around.
Gaethje said that fans expecting a simple continuation of the action from their first fight are wide of the mark, with both men improving their games markedly since their first meeting.
“Especially with the five years in between, we’re both completely different people, different fighters, and with age comes wisdom,” Gaethje said.
“I’ve obviously grown, he’s grown, and I remember he has a really nice left hand. It’s a beautiful left hand, so we’ve been working on that.”
As well as bragging rights and the BMF belt, the bout could determine the next number-one contender for the lightweight title. Former champ Charles Oliveira will challenge the man who dethroned him, current champ Islam Makhachev, in Abu Dhabi later this year, with the winner of Poirier-Gaethje likely to be next up for the winner of that title rematch.
“I think this is No. 2 vs. No. 3, (and) No. 1 is fighting the champion in October, then we’re going to fight the winner of that, the winner of this fight,” Gaethje explained.
“The aspirations are the championship belt. I think this catapults me right to that. I won’t be looking to defend that. If I have the choice, it’s going to be going for that championship belt.”
But thoughts of the undisputed lightweight title will have to wait until after Saturday night’s fight, with the BMF title taking center stage in Utah. Gaethje said that he sees the fight more as a legacy fight.
“I think this fight gives you that (world title fight) feel without anything on the line,” Gaethje said.
“For the legacy, it’s huge. First it’s championship belts, second is legacy. Third might be money, but those first two things are very important. We’re all trying to create a legacy that will live well past our time. That’s been my goal since Day 1.”