Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Justin Gaethje should be one of the fights of the year

If everything goes according to plan, fight fans are in for a treat this coming September 19th, as UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov should defend his title against Justin Gaethje at UFC 253.

Khabib vs Tony Ferguson was to take place at UFC 249. However, travel restrictions due to the global pandemic forced the UFC to cancel the fight for the fifth time. It’s a fight that just won’t seem to happen, no matter how many times the UFC puts it together.

Conor McGregor vs Khabib Nurmagomedov
Khabib Nurmagomedov holds down Conor McGregor in their UFC lightweight championship bout during UFC 229 (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Justin Gaethje stepped up as a short-notice contender against Ferguson. The American put on a spectacular performance, by 5th-round TKO. Gaethje also took home Fight of the Night and Performance of the Night bonuses.

Many fans and UFC fighters believe Gaethje may have the tools to stop The Eagle, who has gone unbeaten in his entire 28-fight career with the UFC.

Let’s take a closer look at why oddsmakers currently favour Khabib, while UFC fighters lean towards Gaethje.

UFC fighters give their fight analysis on Khabib vs Gaethje

On a recent episode of Chael Sonnen’s podcast, the former UFC fighter and color commentator gave his predictions for a Khabib vs Gaethje showdown. Sonnen referred to comments made by Dustin Poirier, while giving his own input:

“Dustin Poirier, who has fought both Justin Gaethje and Khabib, came out and said that [out] of everyone in the division…… Justin Gaethje has the best chance to beat Khabib. If we look at Gaethje, Gaethje while being a great wrestler, I do not suggest for [you to] go out and wrestle Khabib because Gaethje doesn’t wrestle anyone! [It] drives me crazy!”

Poirier’s exact comments were taken from separate interviews:

“I do think that if Gaethje can keep the fight in the middle of the octagon, he can give Khabib some trouble.”

“[Gaethje] can stop Khabib’s wrestling. Get him tired down. Throw those crazy shots and land something.”

Sonnen’s comments stem from the fact that Gaethje was once an amazing collegiate wrestler. Gaethje is the first athlete from Colorado to achieve All-American status after ranking 7th in the NCAA Division I (157lbs) Championship.

Chael Sonnen believes Vladimir Putin could help out in UFC 249 taking place
Chael Sonnen arrives at the Fighters Only World Mixed Martial Arts Awards 2011 (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

However, Gaethje has utilized a much more striking-focused style in MMA, and has shot only one takedown in his entire 21-2 UFC career.

Dan Hooker also gave his thoughts to MMA Fighting, and why he thinks Gaethje can beat Nurmagomedov:

“I’m definitely interested. Gaethje, if you’re describing a skill set that would give Khabib trouble, it is Gaethje’s skill set. An incredibly strong defensive wrestler who’s very handy on his feet and can dish out a lot of damage. Great cardio being five rounds. Very comfortable being in a main event spot. He has the game you would put together to definitely give Khabib his toughest test. I’m leaning more towards Gaethje in that fight.”

Gaethje’s style sounds pretty similar to UFC Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell, who was also a former NCAA Division I wrestler that preferred striking in MMA. Liddell and Gaethje share a TD defense of around 80% while winning most of their fights via brutal TKO / KO fashion.

Justin Gaethje celebrates winning the UFC interim Lightweight title at 249
Justin Gaethje celebrates after defeating Tony Ferguson in their Interim lightweight title fight during UFC 249 (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

In some ways, Khabib vs Gaethje may be the Liddell vs Couture of modern times.

Can we rule out Khabib’s own striking?

While many are looking at this from a striker vs grappler angle, Khabib has proven himself to be no slouch in the striking department either. At UFC 229, Khabib floored Conor McGregor with a vicious overhand right in the 2nd round, sending the Irishman to the floor for the first time in McGregor’s UFC career.

Khabib also displayed great, albeit awkward striking against Al Iaquinta, and weathered vicious barrages from Michael Johnson. Every time pundits have said Khabib will be in danger from strikers, he’s managed to showcase his own underrated striking game.

Many said McGregor would be Khabib’s toughest challenge as far as striking goes, and we all witnessed how that played out.

The main difference in Khabib vs Gaethje will be Gaethje’s incredible takedown defense, and while that may prove to be a deciding factor in this fight, it’s not enough to rule out Khabib’s own striking game.

Khabib Nurmagomedov faces Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 in his next fight
Mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov gives a press conference in Moscow on November 26, 2018. (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP)

Khabib’s career average striking stats are 4.11 strikes landed per minute, with 49% accuracy, and 67% striking defense.

Gaethje’s are 7.74 SLpM, with 59% accuracy, yet 54% striking defense. It’s entirely possible that some of those Russian sambo punches Khabib sometimes throws will find their mark.

At the end of the day, this is a highly intricate matchup that could go any number of ways, but we definitely expect it to go into the championship rounds.

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