Gaethje: Ferguson will face ‘pure hell’ at UFC 249

  • MMA columnist for ESPN.com
  • Analyst for “MMA Live”
  • Covered MMA for Las Vegas Sun

UFC lightweight Justin Gaethje says he’ll have “18-to-19 minutes of pure hell” for Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 on April 18, adding that he’s confident that will be enough to get it done.

Gaethje (21-2) has agreed to face Ferguson (25-3) at an undisclosed location on short notice. The 31-year-old has notoriously refused to fight on short notice throughout his distinguished career, and he admits he wasn’t keen on the idea initially but ultimately decided to accept the opportunity of an interim title fight.

“When I train for a fight, I really go to a special place every single day,” said Gaethje, who replaced Khabib Nurmagomedov on the card. “I do not cheat. I wake up with a goal in mind: to be better than yesterday. The more days you can do that in a row, the more prepared you will be.

“For me, it’s always that mental warfare. Confidence is huge in there. If you haven’t prepared, then you can’t be confident — or as confident as you should be.”

The good news for Gaethje, who lives and trains in Denver, is that two of his training partners — Austin Hubbard and Neil Magny — just fought at UFC 248 on March 7 in Las Vegas, and Gaethje says he served as one of their primary training partners. He said his weight is a nonfactor, as he weighs about 168 pounds 10 days before weigh-in, which is not a relatively high amount.

Gaethje admitted that there is no way he’ll be at his absolute best by April 18, but he guesses he’ll be about “95 percent” and doesn’t believe the fight will go into the championship rounds.

“My fights, either I get finished or they get finished inside three rounds,” Gaethje said. “A matchup like this, with me and Tony Ferguson, one of us is going to finish the other inside three rounds.”

A former collegiate wrestler, Gaethje said he accepted the fight to give people something to watch at home and because a win would make him a champion on paper and thus eligible to receive pay-per-view points in his next bout. Assuming he wins, his next bout would almost certainly be against Nurmagomedov to unify the title. Prior to this fight being booked, Gaethje’s name had been attached to a potential bout against Conor McGregor, but it appears that he has more interest in fighting for the championship. Nurmagomedov told ESPN that he would be ready to fight in August.

“What an interim title means to me and every other fighter, when you are a champion, you get a piece of pay-per-view,” Gaethje said. “When I attain this belt, that makes me a champion on paper, and that gets me pay-per-view points. I fight for money, and this opportunity is huge for me in that regard. Same with Tony. I think that’s why he’s taking it.”

UFC 249 is scheduled to take place at an undisclosed location, as the UFC scrambled to find a site amid the coronavirus pandemic. Gaethje said he does not know where the bout will take place.

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