Justin Gaethje walked away from his war with Michael Chandler at UFC 268 with his hand raised.
It wasn’t quite smooth sailing for “The Highlight”, however – not only in the form of fist meeting face but regarding officiating as well. A miscommunication in the second round following an eye poke to Gaethje led to referee Mike Beltran having a quick exchange with the former interim lightweight champ as Beltran believed it was a punch.
“I hate to critique the guy – he’s human, and we make mistakes,” Justin Gaethje said on the Anik and Florian podcast (h/t MMA Fighting). “I just think that … pretty much every ref that I step out there with has a look in their eyes, and it’s a look like they’re shook, like they’re intimidated by what just occurred.
“I understand that, but this is real life. I need them to be in game mode. We’re not dealing with seconds anymore. This is way less than seconds. if you’re going to break action, you’ve got to put your body in there. If you’re going to get hit, that needs to be OK.
“That was a big punch,” he continued. “What if that would have knocked me out? Those can change the whole direction of a fight. It’s just crazy to me that it wasn’t a big issue, because for me it was a huge issue. That’s $1 million, if I lose, that’s so much money off of my table.”
Justin Gaethje would ultimately rebound after a loss in his title tilt opposite Khabib Nurmagomedov a year prior. His unanimous decision victory over Chandler resulted in the two earning an extra $50,000 with fight of the night honors.
In the end, Gaethje admits to being more upset than he normally would be due to Beltran’s efforts to try and justify his side of things backstage.
“In my mind, I think he’s referencing the punch that just occurred,” Gaethje said. “And so, I’m like, yeah, I’m good, because as a fighter, you never say you’re not good to continue. So then he was like, ‘OK, fight.’ I was like, ‘No, I need my time. He poked me in the eye.’ And he looks directly at me and he says, ‘You said you’re good, fight.’ And he never looked at my eye. He didn’t even take one second to see if I was affected.”