Can Khabib Nurmagomedov actually be beaten?
Just like with Floyd Mayweather in boxing, the true champions always find a way to win and thus far, nobody – save for a brief moment where Dustin Poirier had a choke locked in – has been able to find an answer for the Russian’s superior grappling.
Now at 28-0, the 32-year-old moves ever closer to achieving his father’s dream of 30-0. Sadly, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, passed away earlier this year and won’t be able to see it, but the champion’s determination to realise his dream is just as strong.
While Khabib’s star has shone brighter ever since he comprehensively defeated Conor McGregor, his opponent at UFC 254, Justin Gaethje, has quietly gone about his business.
The Arizona-native had some buzz around him even before his demolition of Tony Ferguson in May, but now it appears everyone is beginning to take this man very seriously.
Khabib is an expert at smothering his opponents. He wrestles them to the ground and exudes every ounce of their energy fighting him.
Once they’re tired, he goes in for the kill. He has 18 stoppages on his record and 10 decision victories, all of which are unanimous.
However, the age-old debate has resurfaced – can the striker catch the shooter on the way in? If Gaethje manages to, there is little doubt he can turn his lights out.
“Everything he throws is designed to put you out. He does not come out with a real jab heavy game. He is looking for crosses, hooks, and uppercuts,” former UFC star Chael Sonnen said on his YouTube channel.
“Those are finishing punches. Jabs, are to let you find out where the opponent is, it is a tool for measure.”
Former light-heavyweight contender Sonnen is not the only one high on Gaethje.
Joe Rogan, the UFC’s co-commentator, calls him ‘the most violent man’ in all of MMA.
“Justin Gaethje’s a monster. He’s a monster. He’s a terrifying individual. He is, I mean, in a sport that’s violent, it’s an inherently violent sport, he stands out, as the most violent,” he said on his podcast.
“I mean, you watch his knockout of Edson Barboza, you watch how that motherf***** attacks people. There’s a reckless abandon to his calculated wildness.
“It’s terrifying. He’s something special and he’s better all the time.”
In the middle of Gaethje’s current four-fight win-streak, he took out the legendary Donald Cerrone with a first-round knockout.
“It sucks to get your ass whupped that fast,” Cerrone said immediately afterwards.
Gaethje is an unforgiving man inside the octagon. But, even he hesitated when the referee didn’t stop the fight as he dropped Cerrone. It took another unanswered shot for the fight to be stopped and Gaethje looked thoroughly annoyed he hadn’t done so sooner.
“This kid is a stud, man,” Cerrone said. “It’s very hard to fight a friend. What a cool dude. What a cool sport.”
“They call him ‘The Human Highlight,’ the most exciting guy in the game. It’s true.
“Not just the most exciting guy in the game but all of combat sports. There is no fighter in the world of sports that is more exciting than Justin Gaethje. Boxing, kickboxing, mixed martial arts – you’ll find nobody more exciting and better.
“The Justin Gaethje that fought Tony Ferguson in May is more dangerous to Khabib than anyone that he has ever stepped in the octagon with.”
If we break down Cormier’s words, you start to realise he’s absolutely right.
Not only does Gaethje carry power, but he is deadly accurate, too.
Gaethje entered the Ferguson fight with the highest significant striking accuracy rate in UFC history, at 55.6 per cent.
Against Ferguson, he landed even higher than that at 72.6 per cent accuracy. Incredibly, 100 of those strikes landed on Ferguson’s head.
Gathje vs Khabib is going to be a barnstormerIn return, Ferguson threw more than 150 strikes extra than Gaethje did and despite this, the total punches landed was still less than his opponent’s.
The point of those statistics shows that nobody is more equipped to land a heavy shot on Khabib as he looks for a takedown than Gaethje. And, one could argue, nobody can hit harder.
That’s a lethal combination that people will start taking very seriously very fast.
talkSPORT will bring you live and exclusive coverage of UFC 254 this Saturday. Listen on talkSPORT.com from 7pm, while coverage will get under way on talkSPORT 2 from 8pm