Justin Gaethje is under no illusion about what taking a fight against Tony Ferguson on short notice entails.
"I know what I have in front of me," he told ESPN's Brett Okamoto. "Tony Ferguson lives in dark places. He's gonna take me to a dark place. MMA was defined by a fight like me and Tony Ferguson."
"The Highlight" has been drafted in as a late replacement at UFC 249 for lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, who is stranded in Russia amid the Covid-19 crisis.
The interim lightweight title will be on line next weekend, after the UFC finally found a new location for the event - reportedly the Tachi Palace Casino Resort on Native American land in Northern California.
Gaethje spoke to his head coach Trevor Witmann after being asked to step in by the UFC, and slept on the decision. It helped he had been training hard since January, sparring with teammates Austin Hubbard and Neil Magny to prepare them for their fights at UFC 248 in Las Vegas, with the belief he could be called up - not an unfounded hunch, given Khabib vs Ferguson had already fallen through four times.
"I was going into practice with that mindset," he said. "I'm very thankful it was somewhere in the back of my head this was a possibility. I do feel I've been subconsciously training for something like this.
"Trevor does make the call," he said. "As soon as he heard the confidence that I wanted to take the fight he was super excited and all in. He's the ultimate decision maker, I trust him. If I wasn't ready or I wasn't capable he wouldn't let me step in there.
"Put a world title on top of that, the opportunity that's on table right now is a no-brainer for me."
Ferguson is on a 12-fight win streak in the UFC, with his last two fights against Donald Cerrone and Anthony Pettis being waived off before the third round because of a doctor stoppage and a corner stoppage respectively.
"I know I've got about 18 or 19 minutes of pure hell, pure fury," Gaethje said. "But I know how hard I hit. It's gonna be extremely hard to fight with Tony Ferguson in that space.
"I really feel I've changed the way I fight, I can conserve energy much more," he added. "Tony doesn't allow that. I really need to touch his legs, touch his body so he doesn't want to engage. That allows me to fight at my pace and put him to sleep.
"I have to touch him. He gets touched a lot, he engages a lot. I know he's gonna be super pumped up mentally for this fight because of the lost opportunity to fight Khabib. I know he will be aggressive, make mistakes."
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