Khabib Nurmagomedov has some kind words for Justin Gaethje’s striking and wrestling skills, but is still planing to take the challenger down 100 times in his UFC lightweight title defence on Saturday.
The pair meet in the main event of UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi as Gaethje looks to hand Khabib his first ever professional defeat and take his gold belt away from him.
The Dagestani champion is well aware of the threat that the heavy-handed, iron-willed challenger brings to the Octagon, especially early in the fight, describing Gaethje as his most dangerous foe in the first round alongside Conor McGregor.
‘He finished a lot of opponents, a lot of great guys and he finished all of them,’ Khabib said of Gaethje. ‘He was a great champion in other organisation before UFC, right now he is interim champion in UFC, he beat Tony Ferguson.
‘If I beat a guy like Justin Gaethje it is going to be big for my legacy.
‘When he fight he is always very fast in the beginning, in the first round he is dangerous, very dangerous.
‘I think him and Conor are two most dangerous guys in the first round, but if you’re talking about second or third round, they become a bit like regular fighters.’
As with all of Khabib’s opponents, Gaethje will have to deal with the threat of his seemingly unstoppable wrestling attack.
The Highlight does not use his wrestling skills too often in MMA fights, but has an impressive amateur pedigree and the champion rates him as superior to McGregor and last opponent Dustin Poirier in this regard.
Khabib also respects Gaethje’s power, but his string of compliments ended with a threat.
‘I think he has dynamite in his hands, very good kick, they are all good when they stand up, but when I grab them it changes a little bit,’ Khabib said.
‘I think more than Dustin [Poirier], Conor [McGregor] and other guys he knows how to wrestle, it’s gonna be a little bit hard, but I prepared myself to try to take him down 100 times.
‘I think it’s a big difference [between American and Dagestani wrestling], and I know he knows how to wrestle, but what about wrestling for 25 minutes?
‘I’m going to go all night. This is the big difference between US wrestling and Dagestan wrestling.’
Gaethje feels the key to victory, or at least to avoiding defeat, will be to stay away from the cage where Khabib is so deadly with his grappling.
The Highlight believes that if he can keep the fight on its feet, or the grappling exchanges in the centre of the Octagon, he will leave with the title on Saturday night.
‘He hasn’t fought somebody that has wrestled or grappled as long as he has,’ said the 31-year-old. ‘That’s me. I have.
‘Everyone says they’re ready, I will not allow him to put me on the fence. If I do, then I’m screwed. So my gameplan is if he wants to grapple, let’s grapple in the middle.
‘I’ve said 1000 times, I cause damage. I have dense bones, and I’m going to kick his legs. That’s where it’s gonna start and then move on from there.’
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