Justin Gaethje has some pretty lofty goals for 2022.
Not only does “The Highlight” want to capture the UFC lightweight title from Charles Oliveira in Brazil, a pretty tall task in and of itself, he also wants to win over the Brazilian crowd by the time their championship contest is finished.
Kind of like the end of Rocky IV, when the Russians were cheering for “The Italian Stallion.”
“I want to go down to Brazil; I want to fight in the chaos,” Gaethje told BT Sport (transcribed by Farah Hannoun). “If you go back and listen to my early interviews, I said I wanted to go to the enemy territory like Brazil and fight in that chaos. So them screaming ‘I’m gonna die,’ 20,000 people, I am 100 percent confident that when I’m done, they’ll love me.”
I’ll believe it when I see it.
Gaethje (23-3) came up short in his bid to capture the lightweight crown from Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 254 back in late 2020, but slugged his way back into the No. 1 spot by toppling Michael Chandler at UFC 268 last November.
“To be completely honest with you, I feel like [Chandler] was kind of a boring fight when I was in there,” Gaethje continued. “It’s the first time I’ve ever wanted to win more than to knock somebody out. So yeah, it was not good. I didn’t like it. I want to go back to just wanting to hurt somebody and finish them. But now that I have won and I got my title shot, I can go back to how it should be.”
As for Oliveira (32-8, 1 NC), who also shut down Chandler during last year’s fight campaign, he's coming off a submission victory over Dustin Poirier in December. The resurgent “Do Bronx” has won 10 straight fights with nine finishes, putting away the likes of Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee along the way.
A Gaethje fight seems like a foregone conclusion at this point ... unless something crazy happens.