It appears as if Justin ‘The Highlight’ Gaethje (22-3 MMA, 5-3 UFC) has finally found his first fight since losing to Khabib Nurmagomedov via second-round submission at UFC 254 on Oct. 24 of 2020.
ESPN’s Brett Okamoto reported Saturday that Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler is being targeted for UFC 268. The hope is that this crucial lightweight contest will take place at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Nov. 6. (MSG as the official venue for this show isn’t a done deal yet.)
Bout agreements have not yet been signed. If Gaethje prevails, he should be in line to get the winner of Charles ‘Do Bronx’ Oliveira’s first lightweight title defense against Dustin ‘The Diamond’ Poirier later this year. If Chandler beats Gaethje and Poirier takes out Oliveira, Chandler could get the first crack at Poirier.
Poirier has already defeated Gaethje via fourth-round knockout, but it was named the 2018 Fight of the Year by Sherdog, MMAJunkie and MMAWeekly. So obviously, nobody would be opposed to Poirier-Gaethje II.
However, if Oliveira successfully defends his strap, Chandler (22-6 MMA, 1-1 UFC) would probably need to get at least one more victory before getting a rematch with the Brazilian, who won the title by finishing Chandler via second-round KO at UFC 262 in May.
Chandler hasn’t faced Poirier before and Gaethje hasn’t shared the Octagon with Oliveira, who will take a nine-fight winning streak into his scrap against Poirier. (FanDuel currently has Poirier listed as a -158 ‘chalk’ vs. Oliveira, who is a +134 underdog.)
FanDuel also has Gaethje installed as a -158 favorite against Chandler (+134). BetMGM has ‘The Highlight’ listed as a -175 favorite vs. Chandler, who is a +145 underdog.
The 32-year-old Gaethje had his four-fight winning streak snapped against Nurmagomedov, who retired with a 29-0 career record last October. Gaethje had won all four fights by KO, including first-round finishes of James Vick, Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone and Edson Barboza. He won the lightweight interim belt by earning a fifth-round KO victory over Tony Ferguson at UFC 249.
During his eight-fight UFC tenure, Gaethje has bagged nine fight-night bonuses. He won at least one bonus in each of his first seven Octagon appearances, becoming the first fighter to do so in the promotion’s history.
The 35-year-old Chandler defeated Dan ‘Hangman’ Hooker by first-round KO in his promotional debut at UFC 257 in January. Ten of his 22 career wins have come by KO and seven have been by submissions. Four of his six losses have been by KO and two have come via decisions.
Gaethje has scored 19 of his 22 career victories by KO, one by submission and two via decisions. He’s been KO’d twice (Eddie Alvarez and Poirier) and Nurmagomedov is the only fighter to submit him.