Ahead of his lightweight title unification clash with the undefeated, Khabib Nurmagomedov this weekend at UFC 254 – interim champion, Justin Gaethje has envisioned a headlining matchup packed with damage – questioning if that’s something Khabib can handle over twenty-five minutes.
Gaethje, one of the most punishing strikers in recent memory, particularly at lightweight, earned this weekend’s shot at Khabib via a one-sided bludgeoning of the then streaking, Tony Ferguson on short-notice at UFC 249 in May. Scoring a whopping one-hundred head strikes to the gritty, Ferguson – the Arizona native forced the issue in the fifth-round, with an eventual stoppage.
A newly composed and calculated Gaethje has found massive success since a knockout loss of his own against former interim best, Dustin Poirier back in April of 2014 – scoring stoppage wins himself against James Vick, Edson Barboza, and Donald Cerrone, to go with his finish of Ferguson.
Whether it’s a debilitating calf kick we’ve seen utilised to great effect already or his sharp newly installed counter boxing tactical approach, Gaethje has told how he plans on inflicting some sort of damage against Khabib in Abu Dhabi – something the Dagestani certainly isn’t accustomed to.
“I create damage,” Gaethje told Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell. “If I barely miss and I barely clip you, it’s damage. Damage is done. In a twenty-five minute fight, I will create damage one way or another. A thing about Tony (Ferguson) is Tony loves that. One thing I’m sure about Khabib (Nurmagomedov) is he does not love that.”
“His main priority is to not take damage, so he can live a quality life and that’s admirable. But when I hurt you, where does your mind go when your first thought is, ‘Don’t get hurt?’ I don’t know, I’m excited to see his reaction to that.”
Whilst former interim best, Ferguson may welcome the gritty, adversity that comes with a dogfight, evident in wins against former champion, Anthony Pettis, and common-opposition, Barboza, and Cerrone – Khabib has barely been connected on clean in his promotional run.
The above-mentioned Poirier scored a notable shot on the American Kickboxing Academy mainstay at UFC 242 in September of last year, as well as common-foe Michael Johnson at UFC 205 in late 2016, but both went on to drop eventual submission losses.