Justin Gaethje isn’t particularly moved by fighting for the vacant “BMF” title in his rematch with Dustin Poirier at UFC 291, but he’s wise enough to know what the belt represents, and what it could do for his career.
With inaugural “BMF” champ Jorge Masvidal retired from MMA competition, the UFC brass opted to bring the belt for the first time in more than three years for the July 29 headliner, which takes place at The Delta Center in Salt Lake City and airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and ESPN+.
With Gaethje (24-4 MMA, 7-4 UFC) and Poirier (29-7 MMA, 21-6 UFC) owning a combined 24 fight-night bonuses under the UFC banner, there are few more fitting matchups that would be worthy of the “BMF” name. For Gaethje, though, it’s more about the perk that come along with the designation. It could lead to a more lucrative future for himself, and thinks the UFC should be commended rather than criticized for the stakes around the fight.
“My true assessment: When Masvidal and (Nate) Diaz fought for it I was like, ‘This is stupid.’ I still think it’s kind of stupid,” Gaethje told Cageside Press. “However, to the fans that say it’s stupid, I say that it’s ultimately the UFC giving one more fighter one more opportunity to win and to gain an opportunity to get pay-per-view points. This belt, just like interim belts, on paper, are a championship. You are a champion in the eyes of the UFC, and when you are a champion in the eyes of the UFC, you get paid different.
“So to the people who say it’s stupid, it’s the UFC throwing a bone, like we always ask them to throw a bone and they never do. So I’m thankful there is an opportunity that I get to fight for. Especially because there is only one in the world. It’s a cool looking belt. I think it’s little bit of a show, but I think it’s ultimately UFC throwing a bone, and I’ve got to be thankful for that.”
Gaethje said he was initially reluctant to fight Poirier at UFC 291. He didn’t want to fight five rounds, and admits he preferred a three-round contest at UFC 292 on Aug. 19. The UFC enticed the offer with the “BMF” stakes and more money on the line, though, so he said he couldn’t resist accepting.
It’s a huge fight for Gaethje, who after his May 2022 loss to Charles Oliveira for the lightweight title, said he only had one more run to the top of the division in him. That started off strong with a Fight of the Night victory over Rafael Fiziev at UFC 286 in March, and now he goes into the first rematch of his UFC career against Poirier.
Gaethje suffered a fourth-round TKO loss to Poirier in their first encounter at UFC on FOX 29 in April 2018. The thrilling contest was the Fight of the Year for 2018, and there’s been expectations the pair would eventually cross paths again. Gaethje wants payback on Poirier with a knockout victory, but he knows it’s going to be an intense contest where every error will come a potentially fight-ending penalty.
“Since that fight I certainly have grown,” Gaethje said. “I’m five years old. I was 29 years old. A lot of big fights between that day and today and the day that I’ll fight him. I am human and I am susceptible to make mistakes. I think I made a huge mistake in the Oliveira fight, I became super emotional. And I think that’s one thing I will not allow to happen this fight and I think it’s going to be somewhat of a chess match, but with both of us trying to create damage at all times. Five rounds, obviously you’ve got to fight smart. Championship fight, usually the first one to make a mistake, loses. Ultimately I have to be perfect and I’m fighting a dog.”
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 291.