B/R Staff Roundtable: Should Gaethje Replace Khabib in UFC 249 Main Event?

Kelsey McCarsonFeatured ColumnistApril 3, 2020

B/R Staff Roundtable: Should Gaethje Replace Khabib in UFC 249 Main Event?

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    Is Gaethje on deck now for UFC 249?
    Is Gaethje on deck now for UFC 249?Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Is Justin Gaethje a suitable replacement for UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 249?

    That's what MMA fans are left to ponder after Nurmagomedov pulled out of his upcoming title defense against Tony Ferguson earlier this week so the champ could self-quarantine in Russia amid this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak.

    That marked the fifth time Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson has fallen through, but UFC president Dana White seems hell-bent on staging the UFC's next pay-per-view event on April 18 anyway, so we now turn our attention toward whether Gaethje, a much-speculated replacement, fits the bill as the opponent to Ferguson in the main event of UFC 249.

    Hey guys, is Gaethje a good replacement for Khabib?

Taylor: 'Definitely Not'

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    Taylor thinks the UFC should just keep rebooking Khabib-Ferguson until it happens.
    Taylor thinks the UFC should just keep rebooking Khabib-Ferguson until it happens.Chris Unger/Getty Images

    Tom Taylor: Is Justin Gaethje a suitable replacement for Khabib? No, no, no. Definitely not. 

    That's not a knock on Gaethje. The reality is that nobody is a suitable replacement for Khabib. The lightweight champ brings something unique to the table. He's an undefeated, generational talent who looks increasingly untouchable each time we see him in the cage. He's a special case.

    That's particularly true in this context. As we all know, Khabib has now been scheduled to fight Tony Ferguson five times to no avail. At this point, theirs is one of the most anticipated matchups ever. When one half of a fight like this disappears, you don't just replace it with whatever else is available. If you've got a hankering for a peanut butter and jam sandwich and realize you're out of jam, you don't reach for mayonnaise. You wait till you have more jam. The same logic applies here.

    Again, this is not a knock on Gaethje. I also won't pretend for a second that a matchup involving Ferguson and Gaethje wouldn't be an absolute banger. I imagine that fight would look something like a helicopter flying into a wrecking ball. It would be a mess of spinning stuff and destructive impacts for as long as it lasted. But, at this point, Khabib vs. Tony exists on a higher plane than just about any other matchup. 

    When it falls through, you don't replace it. You suck it up and you try to book it again—and again and again and again until it finally sticks.

Fitzsimmons: 'Ferguson-Gaethje Certainly Fits the Bill'

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    Fitzsimmons believes Ferguson and Gaethje would combine for a rip-roaring scrap..
    Fitzsimmons believes Ferguson and Gaethje would combine for a rip-roaring scrap..Chris Unger/Getty Images

    Lyle Fitzsimmons: Justin Gaethje seems like a decent enough guy.

    He's surely a world-class fighter and understandably a favorite of the hardcore set, given his propensity for killing or being killed—competitively speaking, of course—since arriving in the UFC in late 2017.

    Five main card fights. Five KO/TKO finishes. Three times sharing Fight of the Night bonuses and twice keeping Performance of the Night cash all to himself.

    It's an action-hero resume that takes a backseat to precious few.

    So, if what you're seeking is a rip-roaring scrap that's unlikely to last 25 minutes, he's your man.

    And maybe, God bless him, that's exactly what poor Dana White needs these days. Thrown together for titillation purposes, Ferguson-Gaethje certainly fits the bill.

    In fact, the posters almost write themselves: UFC 249: The Slump-Buster.

    And let's face it, it's not Gaethje's fault. He's nowhere near the unbeaten Russian when it comes to all-around ability in any position—then again, who is?—but he's managed to keep himself on the fringes of the pay-per-view spotlight long enough that asking him to dance doesn't reek of desperation.

    Especially if it's in an empty arena.

    Given Ferguson's prowess and long-term success against better foes, it's a fight he probably wins and a result he ultimately uses as buzz fuel if Dana and Co. have the guts to even ponder Nurmagomedov VI. And assuming he lasts longer than Cowboy Cerrone, it's no long shot to think even a beaten Gaethje could parlay the afterglow into a combative hook-up with the most coveted UFC date of all, Conor McGregor.

    After all, if you can't be Mr. Right, why not make the best of being Mr. Right Now?

McCarson: 'Gaethje Deserves a Big Fight'

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    McCarson likes the idea of Ferguson vs. Gaethje.
    McCarson likes the idea of Ferguson vs. Gaethje.Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    Kelsey McCarson: Gaethje is one of the best and most exciting fighters in the sport. I'm not sure why the 31-year-old American would risk his assumed front-runner status to face Irish superstar Conor McGregor next, but if fighting Ferguson at UFC 249 is what he wants to do, then there's no reason he shouldn't be next man up.

    At this point, it might just be most reasonable to say that Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson is forever cursed and that maybe we should all just move on with our lives. I mean, a fight being made and scrapped once or twice is nothing to be alarmed about, but things are getting silly here.

    In fact, after seeing this thing fall through five straight times, one simply has to believe we're dealing with forces we can't possibly hope to understand and that those forces don't want Nurmagomedov and Ferguson to fight.

    In all seriousness, Gaethje deserves a big fight, and getting the shot against Ferguson with practically the entire world watching would give him a huge chance to do something special. Ferguson hasn't lost a fight in almost eight years, but Gaethje is six years younger and might have the perfect kind of aggression that could spell Ferguson's doom.

    If the UFC is truly going to put on a show no matter what the rest of the world thinks, it might as well be as solid a main event as possible.

    Ferguson-Gaethje sounds good to me.