Khabib vs Gaethje: It is not the fight we had all waited to see for a long time. However, Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0 MMA, 12-0 UFC) defending his belt against the interim lightweight champion, Justin Gaethje (22-2 MMA, 5-2 UFC), is still an incredible stylistic matchup. UFC 254: Nurmagomedov vs. Gaethje takes place on October 31, 2020, at Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The events are exclusively available in the US on ESPN+ pay-per-view.
But how do these two principle main event contenders stack up against each other ahead of the showdown? Khabib hails as one of the fiercest champions in the UFC, being unbeaten in his 28-fight career. He is known to be quite dominant with his devastating strength and grappling techniques.
As for Gaethje, he stepped into UFC back in 2017, after being an unbeaten champ somewhere else. Although he’s got a collegiate wrestling background, he possesses excellent stand-up skills with lethal kicks and heavy hands. Gaethje remains an exciting contender for the UFC title, having lost only two matches in his career so far.
Which of the fierce 155-pound fighters will win the UFC Lightweight Title that’s up for grabs? The most important thing we can do is wait for the fight-night. But before then, Nurmagomedov vs. Gaethje – In-depth a head to toe breakdown, is what we have for you.
Nurmagomedov has taken great strides with his stand-up skills over the years, even clipping Conor McGregor in their meet-up last year. Khabib is vicious on his feet, but his totality striking ability cannot matchup that of Gaethje.
Gaethje is currently one of the most devastating strikers in the UFC. After conceding losses against Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, Gaethje has improved by taking the time and sticking to a game plan. This slight change has resulted in him win three first-round stoppage matchups.
So, if Gaethje can draw Nurmagomedov into a great stand-up war, he can quickly end up the reigning UFC champion.
Nurmagomedov has undoubtedly decided the edge in grappling. He is one of the best wrestlers ever to set foot in an MMA ring, and how he strings his techniques make his style so exciting to watch. Khabib got the ability to continuously switch styles until he finds the easiest route for his opponent to the floor. If you defend one style, he probably got a second or third technique racked upon his sleeve. Once there, you can see what his top pressure did to Conor.
On the other hand, Gaethje entered UFC with a solid grappler credential, been a star in the collegiate ranks. However, he doesn’t seem interested in grappling. Gaethje is more lethal with strikes and prefers not to take his opponent to the floor.
Determining who has the competitive edge in submission can be tricky, but I don’t think that will be the case here. Needless to say, Nurmagomedov has more submission wins in the game than most fighters. He comes with some decent Kimura and brutal chokes.
Just like most UFC athletes, Gaethje indeed possesses some jiu-jitsu techniques. He has an 80% defense, which will make it hard for Nurmagomedov to lock him on the ground. All in all, Gaethje is Nurmagomedov’s complete opposite with submission as he doesn’t apply it at the highest level of the sport. He’s only scored one win through submission throughout his time in the MMA.
Without a doubt, Nurmagomedov’s love for submission gives him an edge.
The most moving question before the UFC 254 surrounds Nurmagomedov, after losing his father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, early July following Covid-19 complications. The relationship between Khabib and his father was very close. His father was his coach. Khabib has not stepped into the ring since September 7, 2019, after beating Dustin Poirier. How will the death of his father affect the reigning UFC Lightweight Champion? Talks have it that this might give him the reason to fight twice as much.
On the other hand, Justin Gaethje has been quite active in the ring. As he comes up against Nurmagomedov, we think he is well confident with his recent form. The interim champ is proving that he’s no longer the come-forward stalker. His patience with strikes saw him win four consecutive matches with a KO/TKO, three of them occurring in the first round. Both these factors are likely to impact the outcome on October 31.
Khabib’s X-Factor – Counters and Pressure
Khabib is the tough guy here. We have seen him stand up against some great striking fighters. If Gaethje decides to come on with his blitzing, aggressive action, Nurmagomedov will have some work on his defense and carefully use his pressure game. When Gaethje starts draining, you are likely to see Khabib come at him with his jabs, get him to the cage, and start manipulating him from there.
Khabib is swift with his moves and frightening near the cage or floor. Most opponents are terrified into submission. Despite his wrestling background, Gaethje will find it rough if he decides to beat Nurmagomedov at grappling and locking techniques.
Gaethje’s X-Factor – Pressure and Counters
We have known Gaethje for his blitzing, kamikaze style, which has benefited him, for sure, in some particular areas. Continuous pressure against Nurmagomedov, coupled with forcing him to shoot reactively, which isn’t Nurmagomedov’s strongest area, will give him a real chance of winning the duel. The only problem is, we have seen Gaethje bite off this zeal after the few first rounds.
However, we haven’t seen Gaethje hold it up against a zealous wrestler in a long time. With his defense and wrestling background, we’ll see how he handles Khabib. Considering the most exciting thing about this matchup is the newer, more patient fighting style exhibited by Gaethje. We think he will force Khabib into being more careful with his shot selection and precise use of his pressure game, which lacks excellent footwork.
Who will win odds and predictions?
Like anyone in the lightweight division, the reigning UFC champion, Nurmagomedov, enters this title fight as a favorite. Nevertheless, Gaethje’s excellent takedown defense makes it an exciting matchup that may be fought on the feet in stages. If Gaethje manages to get back at his feet fast, or stuff the Russian’s takedowns, he’s got the advantage of striking. Perhaps he connects a bomb on Nurmagomedov’s chin; we could see something unpredictable play out on October 31.
But we’ve seen Khabib take Poirier and McGregor’s shots before firing back and getting that perfect takedown. If he manages to grind through the first rounds and let Gaethje tire become less powerful and slower, Khabib can finish the fight with a comfortable win by submission.