Justin Gaethje
Justin Gaethje Image Credit: UFC

Dubai: It’s been less than 48 hours since Justin Gaethje signed up to fight for the interim lightweight title at UFC 249, but the former high school and collegiate wrestling champion has wasted no time to turn on the trash talk and warn his opponent, Tony Ferguson, of the dire consequences he faces when they get in the Octagon on April 18.

Gaethje, a short-notice replacement for unbeaten UFC champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, who is in quarantine in Dagestan, Russia, acknowledged that “it’s really a terrifying moment — I know what I’m facing”, but promises to put Ferguson “to sleep”.

“I love facing adversity,” he told TMZ Sports. “I’m facing my fears right now. That’s what we all need to do. I got the perfect dance partner. I got the dance partner that I dream about and that’s Tony Ferguson.

“He thrives in dark places, he doesn’t get tired, he’s got cardio for days. But I’ve got legs, I’m going to attack his legs, his body and I hit like a Mack truck. So when I hit him and punch him in the head, he’ll go to sleep.”

Gaethje, who boasts an MMA record of 23 fights, 21 wins and 18 by knockout, added: “I possess some of the best finishing skills on the UFC roster.”

“If not, he’s probably going to cut me up with some elbows, probably choke me out late in the fight if I don’t put him to sleep. I’m content with every single one of those scenarios as long as I get to go in there and I don’t disappoint myself, or my family. That’s my only goal.”

Gaethje, who is an American fighter of German-Mexican heritage, has long cried out for recognition in the UFC where he has won all three of his last fight against Donald Ceronne, Edson Barboza and James Vick, by brutal knockouts.

“If I lose, then where are we at? It’s in the same exact spot we’re in right now,” Gaethje said. “I’m gonna go out there and get a pay cheque, which is nice, but ultimately, I get a chance for glory.

“Heroes live forever, legends never die, and I’m literally here to make a statement. My name will be carried on far longer after I’m here because of my effort, my work ethic and the skills I possess.”

Meanwhile, Dustin Poirier — who was in the running to replace Khabib at UFC 249 — has backed Gaethje to win. Poirier beat Gaethje less than two years ago.

“I think he going to knock Tony out,” Poirier told MMA Junkie. “Both guys on the technical side of it don’t have the most crisp technique when it comes to kick-boxing, but they’re both very damaging fighters.

“They both go in with reckless abandonment of their own self to land the big shots. I just think Gaethje is going to land something big on the inside and hurt Tony, man.

“I really do. We’ve seen Tony hurt a few times. I just think Gaethje is going to be the one to finish him.”

Justin Gaethje

Justin Gaethje factfile

Born: November 14, 1988 in Safford, Arizona

Nickname: The Highlight

Height: 5ft 11ins

Weight: 155lbs

Division: Lightweight

Reach: 70ins

Style: Wrestling

Stance: Orthodox