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Justin Gaethje plotting 2023 run at the lightweight title: ‘I need two impressive wins’

After a half-year break to rest his brain, Justin Gaethje is getting ready to strap in for a year full of violence.

MMA: MAY 07 UFC 274 Photo by Louis Grasse/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We haven’t heard much from Justin Gaethje since he lost to then-champ, Charles Oliveira, at UFC 277 back in May. That’s because the electric Lightweight contender has been taking some much needed time to rest, recover and prepare for another run at the 155-pound title.

Sports Illustrated caught up with “The Highlight” at UFC 281 where he came to watch two former opponents — Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler — clash.

“Poirier’s technique can out-class anyone,” Gaethje said after the fight. “The first round is so dangerous with Michael Chandler. The second round is almost as dangerous, and the third round, not as much.”

Following the loss to Oliveira, Gaethje revealed he’d be out of the gym for awhile. He was getting surgery to repair a broken nose that barely allowed him to breath through his nostrils anymore. But, there was another reason as well, one he kept under wraps lest people consider it an excuse for his loss. Little more than two weeks before his shot at the title, Gaethje wiped out on his motorcycle after one of the pedals malfunctioned.

“I smoked my head on the road, and had road rash all down my back,” Gaethje said. “It f—ed my vision for a couple seconds when it happened. Then I took damage in the fight. That’s why I’m taking so much time off. That was such a hurdle. I need this time off. When you get a concussion, you should take time off, and that’s what I’m doing.”

Now that he’s taken a half-year off, he’s ready to get back to work. He hopes UFC will book him alongside teammate, Kamaru Usman, when “The Nigerian Nightmare” is penciled in to rematch Leon Edwards in March.

“I need two impressive wins to get back in the picture,” Gaethje said. “I’ll be right back there with two finishes. The title is my focus. When it’s not, that’s when I need to get the f— out of here. Life’s crazy, but I’m excited. And I’m ready to do it again.”

Gaethje didn’t name any specific names this time, but a month ago he had a top contender he wanted ... and another top contender he didn’t

“I don’t want to fight Beneil [Dariush],” Gaethje said in an interview with MMA Mania. “Ideally [at UFC 281] Poirier beats Chandler, I’d like to fight Poirier. I mean, he beat me. That’s one win I’d like to get back. It was Fight of the Year, Fight of the Decade — Fight of a Couple Years, probably. That was a hell of a fight. That’s ideal.”

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