This Saturday afternoon, live from Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, the big fight is going down. The undefeated, 28-0 world champion Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov puts his undisputed lightweight title on the line against the 22-2 challenger, Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje. Could this be the time when Khabib Nurmagomedov finally takes his first career defeat? There are numerous factors that indicate Gaethje could be the man to dethrone the great Khabib. Let’s take a close look at this pivotal main event showdown which takes place Saturday, October 24th, at UFC 254 live from Fight Island.
What separates Justin Gaethje?
What gives Justin Gaethje a greater chance than all the other world class fighters Khabib Nurmagomedov has defeated?
If you had to create the perfect fighter to beat Khabib Nurmagomedov, what attributes and credentials would you assign that fighter?
For example, in order to defeat Khabib, one’s wrestling cannot just be on point, it must be exceptional. So how about we put a 2x State Champion wrestler from Arizona, who went on to wrestle at the Divison 1 level and become an NCAA D1 All American at the University of Northern Colorado in there with “The Eagle?” That’s exactly what Justin Gaethje is. This is a huge deal, because not only is Gaethje the most highly touted wrestler that Khabib has ever fought, but also, he doesn’t exert too much energy attempting takedowns of his own. Instead, Gaethje will most likely look to use his wrestling in reverse to defend the takedowns of Khabib, and try to land some fight-changing blows. While no one can discredit great fighters & former champions such as Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier, and Rafael Dos Anjos, whom Khabib all soundly defeated, nobody can debate that neither of these fighters have wrestling backgrounds.
Next, you’d need a fighter with one-punch knockout power that can end a fight in the blink of an eye. Gaethje has won 19 of his 22 wins by KO or TKO. Thirdly, one of Gaethje’s best weapons are his devastating leg kicks. In order to immobilize Nurmagomedov, and potentially take away some of the explosiveness of his takedown entries, a steady diet of heavy leg kicks are imperative.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, the heart of a champion, and willingness to dig deep cannot be understated. Gaethje has proven time and time again that he is willing to go to a dark place where not a lot of fighters are eager to go to, in order to achieve his ultimate goal. This Saturday night versus Khabib Nurmagomedov, Justin Gaethje is going to need to tap into that mindset to defeat the seemingly unbeatable Khabib.
What makes Khabib Nurmagomedov so great?
There are lots of factors that make Khabib Nurmagomedov a once-in-a-lifetime fighter. Most know him as a takedown machine. That is a very fitting description, because in 12 UFC fights, Khabib has landed a whopping 59 takedowns. I repeat, Khabib has successfully completed 59 takedowns in 12 UFC fights. That is completely unheard of. However, the most interesting thing about this statistic is that many people use it to underrate Khabib’s stand up abilities. I am not one of those people.
In order to go 28-0 in professional mixed martial arts, you cannot just be a specialist. Fighters must be well-rounded, especially at the top of the food chain in the UFC’s most deepest division, 155 pounds. It is a myth and almost disrespectful to refer to Khabib as “one-dimensional.”
Allow me to explain. If Khabib truly had “no striking,” then why is he the only man in UFC history to drop Conor McGregor? Many will refer to the threat of the takedown, but that seems like an excuse to me. One doesn’t simply knockdown Conor McGregor, unless they are fully capable in the stand up realm. This isn’t the only example of success in Khabib’s striking game.
During his bout with Edson Barboza, Khabib was going right at what many people deem to be the most devastating kicker in the UFC, and was attacking him with flying knees, and kicks of his own. In Khabib’s fight versus Al Iaquinta, Nurmagomedov felt so unthreatened by the New Yorker that he literally put on a jab clinic in that bout. Basically what I’m trying to get at is, even if Gaethje does successfully stuff the takedowns of Khabib, it is not a foregone conclusion that he will automatically win the fight at that point.
Another thing that makes Khabib so great is his relentless pressure. It truly seems like Nurmagomedov is the kind of fighter that doesn’t take “no” for an answer, and keeps pressing forward no matter what his opponents throw at him. This specific mindset and approach has been a crucial factor in his undefeated success for the last decade plus.
How do you approach this fight at the betting window?
Khabib Nurmagomedov versus Justin Gaethje is an interesting fight to bet on for a variety of reasons. Many can argue that the -350 price tag on Khabib is a bit inflated due to the fact that he was only -165 against Conor McGregor, and -250 versus Dustin Poirier. However, others may claim that the line on Khabib has been rightly adjusted as a result of the dominance he displayed in those performances and throughout his entire career. You can even make the argument that Khabib should’ve been this big of a favorite, if not bigger, in those respective fights as well. On the other side of things though, anytime a bettor sees a number like +270 next to a fighter of the caliber of Justin Gaethje, it is very hard to ignore. This fight might indeed be a dog or pass situation based on the number alone.
From all my years of watching combat sports, it is usually very tough to predict when a long-reigning champion will finally face their elusive defeat. For example, if you would’ve told me that Chris Weidman was going to knockout Anderson Silva, I would’ve patted you on the back and sent you on your way. If you would’ve told me that Holly Holm was going to be the one to dethrone Ronda Rousey, I would have completely dismissed you and laughed it off. There are more examples, such as TJ Dillashaw defeating Renan Barao, who was 32-1 and looked untouchable at the time. The bottom line is, these all-time greats tend to lose when you least expect it.
So will I be surprised if Justin Gaethje is “the one?” No, I won’t. However, I need to see it to believe it. For that reason, this is a pass fight for me. I want to sit back and enjoy it. I cannot dissuade anyone from taking the underdog shot on Justin Gaethje based on the odds. I just truthfully do not have the conviction to say that this is the time when Khabib Nurmagomedov will finally lose a fight. That’s why I will be tuning in on Saturday afternoon to find out first hand if Justin Gaethje can defeat the great Khabib Nurmagomedov. Best of luck if you’re wagering on this fight, and always remember to gamble legally and responsibly!