Justin Gaethje launched a staunch defence of UFC 249 going ahead this weekend amid the coronavirus pandemic, insisting: “Everyone’s locked at home, they need something and we are that something.”
The mixed martial arts organisation will return on Saturday night in Jacksonville, Florida, with a 12-fight bill headlined by Gaethje’s clash against Tony Ferguson for the interim lightweight title.
While the event will go ahead behind closed doors, the wisdom of doing so as the Covid-19 related death toll in the United States alone approaches 75,000 has been called into question.
UFC president Dana White told CNN on Thursday that the first live major sports event on US soil in nearly two months is “as safe as it can possibly be”.
Gaethje had no hesitation in signing up for the bill, the first of three UFC events at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in eight days, and he believes they are providing hope to a nation currently under lockdown.
“The Covid wasn’t a factor at all,” the American said at the UFC’s first ever virtual media day.
“First and foremost, these employees at the UFC get to go to work, that’s important to them and me, I get to go to work, I get to get paid. This is what we do it for.
“I also fight to inspire and this is a huge opportunity to do that. Win or lose it doesn’t matter, humans recognise effort and I will give max effort and that’s all you have to do to succeed, I believe.
“(This event is) huge. Everyone’s locked at home, they need something and we are that something.”
The UFC is reported to have acquired 1,200 coronavirus tests to ensure the safety of its fighters and staff this weekend.
Gaethje humorously revealed the extent of damage to his nose during his career meant his doctor had to switch nostrils to get a swab sample.
Gaethje, who has won 21 of his 23 mixed martial arts contests, hopes Ferguson breaks his nose in their headliner so he has an excuse to get it surgically repaired.
“When they did the coronavirus test on me when they stuck it up my nose, they tried my right side and they couldn’t even get that little, tiny thing up my right side so they had to go to my left side,” Gaethje said.
A post shared by Justin Gaethje 🇺🇸 (@justin_gaethje) on Apr 29, 2020 at 7:57pm PDT
“My nose doesn’t work, it was so painful getting it fixed (previously) that I’ve told myself I don’t want to go through it again but I love food, I want to smell it before I eat it, I want to get it fixed.
“He’s going to elbow me so it might as well be on the nose.”
Gaethje described Ferguson’s unique and frenetic fighting style as “a puzzle” ahead of a bout where the winner will almost certainly next face 155lb champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Gaethje, who at 31 is five years younger than his compatriot Ferguson, added: “We’re fighting for the right to represent the United States of America against Russia’s best.”