Conor McGregor has removed himself from the lightweight title picture with his decision to fight Donald Cerrone, according to Justin Gaethje. McGregor will face the No.5-ranked 155-pounder on January 18 in the main event of UFC 246 in Las Vegas.
McGregor’s showdown with Cerrone, which come fight night will be his first outing in over 15 months, will be a welterweight bout.
The Irishman’s decision to return to the 170lb division, which he hasn’t competed in over three years, perplexed many given his desire to reclaim the lightweight title.
Gaethje is amongst those surprised by the former 155lb champion’s decision to move up in weight and believes he’s taken himself out of the running to fight the winner of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s title defence against Tony Ferguson next April.
“I mean, it’s a freak show, man, I don’t know what to make of it,” the former World Series of Fighting lightweight champion said of McGregor’s decision to fight Cerrone at welterweight during an appearance on SiriusXM Radio.
“For me, I think it’s good, it takes [McGregor] out of the picture. It kind of clears the path to what needs to happen.
“Fighting at 170… I don’t know how in his mind he can say, ‘I’ll fight in 170 and then fight for the world title next.’”
Gaethje publicly campaigned to welcome McGregor back to the Octagon on Twitter and even sent the former two-division champion a direct message on Instagram in an attempt to entice him into a fight.
His efforts, however, bore no fruit and have left him wondering why McGregor is reluctant to fight him.
He added: “I’d like to think it is because he doesn’t want to fight me, but I don’t think I’m that scary. I don’t understand it.”
After three first-round stoppages in a row, fan favourite Gaethje is the prime candidate to face the winner of Nurmagomedov vs Ferguson in late 2020.
And he insists McGregor shouldn’t be in contention to face the victor of UFC 249’s main event if he gets the better of Cerrone.
“If he wants to fight for a world title, he has to get another win in the lightweight division,” Gaethje said of the UFC’s poster boy.
“I’m sure he knows that he’s gonna put pressure on Dana [White] and the UFC to give him a title fight after… if… he beats Cowboy at 170.
“Or maybe he’ll fight someone else at 170, I’m not sure what he’s doing.”
McGregor, 31, hasn’t fought since losing his UFC 229 grudge match with Nurmagomedov last October. The Dubliner is hoping to return to his active ways next year, setting his sights on three Octagon outings.
A rematch with Nurmagomedov is top of the former featherweight and lightweight champion’s three-fight plan, with UFC president Dana White saying: “What Conor wants to do is, he wants to get this fight under his belt.
“And if he beats ‘Cowboy,’ he wants to turn around as quickly as possible and fight Khabib.”
Without a win to his name since November 2016, White believes ‘The Notorious’ has to come out of his clash with ‘Cowboy’ victorious.
During an appearance on The Jim Rome show, White said: “He’s at the point of his career right now where a win is a must and he is taking it very serious.
“We actually talked yesterday and he is in great shape, ready to roll and every excited about this fight.”