Khabib Nurmagomedov is an unbeaten monster who has only ever lost one round in his career… but if super-striker Justin Gaethje can stay on his feet and hit his target, he could shock the world at UFC 254
- Justin Gaethje will challenge Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 254 on October 24
- Interim champion Gaethje dominated Tony Ferguson to earn his title shot
- Khabib reigns supreme and is so far undefeated in 28 fights
- Many believe Gaethje is the man who matches up best to beat the Russian
Khabib Nurmagomedov is arguably the most dominant force the mixed martial arts world has ever seen.
The lightweight champion is undefeated in 28 fights, losing just one round in the process, and has come to be revered by fans and fighters across the globe.
However, he is about to face what many believe to be the toughest stylistic match-up of his career in the form of interim champion Justin Gaethje.
Khabib vs Gaethje is the most highly-anticipated match-up of the year for the lightweight belt
Tony Ferguson was long deemed to be Khabib’s greatest threat but Gaethje’s demolition of him earlier this year has changed all that.
That victory at UFC 249 was Gaethje’s fourth finish in a row and the comprehensive nature of it has many believing that Khabib’s ‘0’ could now be in real jeopardy.
The Dagestani remains the clear betting favourite but don’t be fooled into believing there aren’t chinks in his armour, chinks Gaethje may just have the skills to exploit.
Here, Sportsmail looks at why ‘The Highlight’ could be the man to shock the world and end the Russian’s reign.
For the most part, Khabib’s fights follow a similar pattern.
The sambo master takes his opponents down and they stay there. Once grounded, he almost inevitably finds a way to tie up his opponent’s legs with his own and advance to dominant, fight-ending positions, through either a submission or hail of ground and pound.
Khabib Nurmagomedov took Conor McGregor down when they met in 2018
But he’ll have a harder time getting Gaethje down than most of his previous victims, the American boasting a rich pedigree in collegiate wrestling.
In fact, he has only been taken to the mat a couple of times in his 24-fight career, springing straight back up to his feet each time.
Of course Gaethje has never faced a grappler like Khabib but if he can thwart enough takedowns, his chances of winning will dramatically increase.
Khabib’s other great strength is his relentless pressure.
The 32-year-old’s training partners and coaches speak with awe about his ability to seemingly never tire and opponents just can’t seem to keep him off them.
The Russian’s approach in previous fights against other strikers like Dustin Poirier, Conor McGregor and Michael Johnson has been to exhaust them first before securing a finish.
However, none of those men have the cardio of Gaethje.
The 31-year-old has shown that he can push for all five rounds and keep coming forward. Ferguson found that out the hard way.
Gaethje himself has said this could be the key to victory.
Gaethje is determined to stay on his feet and keep going at his opponent
‘I’ll work to be my best self,’ he told ESPN earlier this year. ‘I’m so athletic. The first thing to go when you get tired is your legs, so my legs, from now until then, I’m gonna be running a lot, jump rope a lot, a lot of step ups, squats.
‘If my legs are in shape I don’t get tired. If I don’t get tired I can get back up. If I can get back up, I can hit him like a truck. There’s lot of factors. I’m gonna work on being me, stay in shape. It’s all cardio.’
The one round Khabib lost was the third against McGregor, who started to have some joy before gassing out himself.
If the fight reaches the championship rounds we could find ourselves in a situation where Khabib is the more tired of the two, a situation in which Gaethje will be able to keep the fight standing more easily.
Make no mistake, if Gaethje is to win this fight then it will be because of success on the feet.
Khabib’s striking has improved massively over the years but there is no doubt as to who holds the edge in this department.
Gaethje is not only technically sound but also possesses real power, and he puts it into every shot.
Gaethje is a superb striker while Khabib’s chin has not been tested by a real KO-level shot
He unquestionably has the ability to end the fight in an instant with 19 KOs already on his record and it’s difficult to envisage how Khabib could come out on top out in a prolonged striking exchange after watching the way in which Ferguson was dismantled.
The X-factor is Khabib’s chin, which still hasn’t really been tested by a legitimate knockout-level shot. It could well be on Fight Island.
These could be a big factor.
Against Ferguson, Gaethje connected with 30 leg kicks. Without a steady base, opponents can then become sitting ducks for the American’s boxing, which has become very tidy.
Gaethje himself has said that he only needs to ‘kick him eight times in the calves before he’s compromised’.
We shall see.
Will Khabib and his undefeated record still be standing at the end of UFC 254?
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