UFC 254 Main Event
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje
Lightweight Championship (155 LBS)
When the UFC 249 main event was scheduled, Khabib Nurmagomedov was slated to take on the fierce challenge of Tony Ferguson (for the fifth time). In what has been seen as a dream matchup across the MMA community, the fight looked like it was finally going to happen. As you would have it, that did not happen. With UFC 249 being the first sporting event to occur since COVID-19 struck the United States, fans were left with a bitter taste in their mouth.
Travel restrictions prevented Nurmagomedov from being able to defend his lightweight throne. This opened a spot for any lightweight contender to step up, with Ferguson still willing to compete. With two weeks left before fight night, Justin Gaethje placed his name in the hat for a chance to be the interim lightweight champion. Not only did he throw caution to the wind, but he also outperformed Ferguson in every aspect of the fight. Shocking the world with a 5th round TKO, Gaethje lined himself up for a shot at the undefeated Russian juggernaut, Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov.
Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje – Interim Lightweight Champion
As Gaethje entered the UFC, plenty of people in and around MMA’s sport weren’t quick to give him respect. With an undefeated record coming in, there was plenty of speculation about how tough his competition was in the World Series of Fighting. Losing two of his first three fights by TKO or knockout, Gaethje was getting dismissed early on. Since then, Gaethje has dusted every man that has stood across the octagon from him.
Winning four fights in a row, “The Highlight” has shown off his full potential. Knocking out UFC mainstays like Edson Barboza and Donald Cerrone before beating Ferguson, the rocket ship strapped to his back was ready to launch. While Gaethje is known to stand and bang, his ability to wrestle can’t be undermined as the world prepares for his matchup with Nurmagomedov. As we all know, Khabib knows a thing or two about getting a man to the ground…and keeping him there.
Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov – Lightweight Champion
While Gaethje strives to be looked at as the best lightweight in the world, Khabib is looking to make his claim as the best fighter of all time. With an unprecedented record of (28-0), Nurmagomedov seems to be the most daunting man to step foot in Dana White’s ultimate proving ground. Only losing one round in his entire career, Khabib is arguably the most dominant fighter in the sport’s history. Time will only tell how the kid from Dagestan stands against the Georges St. Pierre’s and Jon Jones’ of the world.
Recognized as the best grappler in the sport, Khabib has also shown his ability to land big shots when needed. Outstriking almost all of his opponents on the feet, the lightweight champion can hold his own while standing up. Until he gets punched too hard and casually interrupts whatever his opponent at the time was planning to do. It’s safe to say there might be a similar sequence of events Saturday afternoon in Abu Dhabi.
As the cage door closes and the two best lightweights in the world get ready to square off, everyone will be wondering one thing. When will Nurmagomedov shoot? While Khabib likes to feel out his opponents, there likely won’t be much time taken by him gaging the range of Gaethje. Even with Gaethje being a Division-I All-American, Khabib will test his ability to scramble early and often.
Gaethje will look to turn the lights out in Georgia all the way from Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. If he can stay level-headed as he did at UFC 249 back in May of this year, his chances escalate dramatically. If he tires as he has in the past, Nurmagomedov dragging him deep into his black hole of vulnerability is a real possibility.
Gaethje will not have the choice of staying at a distance and attempting to land long-range strikes with a short height advantage. Even if he wanted to, he should ask Conor Mcgregor how that went for him. Everyone has a gameplan until the human-bear gets his hands on them. We’ll have to wait and see just how aggressive Gaethje wants to be. Throwing caution to the wind, another time may be “Spider 2 Y Banana” for Gaethje, and the Elevation Fight Team come Saturday afternoon.
The magnitude of this fight speaks for itself. Papa Dana and the UFC brass have pulled it off once again.