SALT LAKE CITY – There have been many special nights throughout Justin Gaethje’s career. However, UFC 291 must be at the top.
In his 29th pro fight on Saturday, Gaethje clinched the BMF title with a headbutt knockout of Dustin Poirier in the second round minute. Gaethje retaliated for a TKO loss to Poirier in their first clash in 2018 and likely secured an easy title shot in early 2024.
“It’s different from any other sport in the world because you hardly have a chance of making amends,” said Gaethje. “We accept defeat, we have to sit at home and let it eat us up. Usually we never get that chance. So to come back and prove myself – I believed in myself all along.”
The conclusion was eerily reminiscent of the headbutt that Leon Edwards used to defeat Kamaru Usman in August at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City for the welterweight championship. Gaethje threw out his jab and followed up with a high headbutt that caught Poirier as he veered away from the punch.
The BMF title originally came about in 2019 when Jorge Masvidal fought Nate Diaz in the main event of UFC 244 in New York City. Masvidal never defended the symbolic title, but withdrew in April, opening the door for the UFC to their second BMF title fight.
Gaethje (25-4) now has the fifth-most KO finishes in lightweight history with six. He endured some adversity on the opening lap before the finish when Poirier, with his left hands outstretched, inflicted a laceration above his left eye. Gaethje blinked away the punches and looked visibly worried, but finally wiped away the blood and continued.
The goal caught the attention of former doubles champion Conor McGregor, who was quick to challenge Gaethje on social media. McGregor is expected to face Michael Chandler sometime after the conclusion of reality show The Ultimate Fighter, which the two filmed together in Las Vegas earlier this year.
In his tweets, McGregor appeared to imply that he would rather fight Gaethje than Chandler.
“Justin I’ll slap you in the face,” McGregor wrote on Twitter. “I’m the real BMF, he can fight for pennies if he wants, but I want spirits, I call the shots, I’m in to call the shots f— Chandler, you want that.” it calls for it.”
Gaethje has already expressed interest in a fight against McGregor, but his main focus has been UFC gold. He won the UFC’s interim title in 2020 by defeating Tony Ferguson, but failed to unify the belt in the title match against Khabib Nurmagomedov later in the year. He challenged then-champion Charles Oliveira for the title again in 2022, losing by submission.
Current champion Islam Makhachev is expected to defend the belt in a rematch against Oliveira at UFC 294 on October 21.
“I want to fight for the world championship,” said Gaethje. “These guys fight in October. Whether you win, lose or draw, I will do my best. I’m ready to roll the dice every day.”
Poirier (29-8) suffered his first knockout defeat since 2016. Saturday marked his first appearance of 2023. In his previous fight, he defeated Chandler at UFC 281 in November.