Conor McGregor must face Justin Gaethje before earning title shot, Ali Abdelaziz says

Gaethje: McGregor should fight me if Khabib retains belt (0:49)

Justin Gaethje says Conor McGregor should fight him if Khabib Nurmagomedov retains the lightweight title at UFC 249. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc. (0:49)

LAS VEGAS -- If Conor McGregor wants a shot at current UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, he will have to go through Justin Gaethje, according to Nurmagomedov and Gaethje's manager, Ali Abdelaziz.

Nurmagomedov (28-0) is scheduled to defend his 155-pound title next month at UFC 249 against Tony Ferguson (25-3) in a bout many feel is his toughest test to date. If Nurmagomedov wins, UFC president Dana White has made it no secret he is interested in booking a rematch between Nurmagomedov and McGregor. The two fought in October 2018 in what was reportedly the highest-selling pay-per-view in UFC history.

According to Abdelaziz, however, McGregor will not get that rematch until he faces Gaethje -- who probably should be next in line, according to lightweight rankings.

"If Khabib wins on April 18, Conor McGregor is not getting a title shot -- simple," Abdelaziz told ESPN. "Dana White is the best promoter of all time because he understands fighting and matchmaking. The only way Conor McGregor can fight for a title is if he beats someone like Justin Gaethje. If he were to do that, it would be hard to deny him.

"The reason why I don't think he's fought Justin Gaethje is I think out of everybody in the UFC, Justin Gaethje takes people to a different place. Many people break. And we've seen Conor McGregor break before. Justin Gaethje is a nightmare matchup for him."

Asked Saturday night for his response to Abdelaziz's claim that McGregor would need to beat Gaethje first if he wants to fight Nurmagomedov, UFC president Dana White smiled and said, "We'll see."

Nurmagomedov, for his part, has stated McGregor would need to win 10 fights before securing a rematch.

Gaethje (20-2), who is coming off a first-round stoppage of Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone in September, told ESPN he recently turned down an offer to fight ranked lightweight Dan Hooker and is set on next fighting either McGregor or the winner of Nurmagomedov-Ferguson.

"I cannot take that into account," said Gaethje, when asked about White's interest in booking a second fight between Nurmagomedov and McGregor. "I'll get fired. I'll punch [White] in the f---ing nose. If you're going to take away an opportunity off my table, then I'm going to f---ing fight you. I don't know what you want me to do.

"It's not fair, and I'm not going to stand for it. I'm very levelheaded. I respect the boss. But if he f---ing tries ... that, I'm going to war."

The UFC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A former featherweight and lightweight champion, McGregor (22-4) is coming off a 40-second knockout over Cerrone in January. It was his first win in the Octagon since November 2016. That fight also took place in the 170-pound welterweight division.