By: Julian Kiewietz
CAPE TOWN - Fans are in for yet another super treat this weekend as the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s top two Lightweights put their skills on the line to find out who is the king of the 70 kilogram division.
UFC lightweight and undefeated king, Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0) faces interim champion, Justin Gaethje at UFC254 in Abu Dhabi on Fight (Yas) Island tomorrow night.
Justin blew fans out of the water with an elite performance over top contender, Tony Ferguson (26-4) earlier this year after the former (22-2) stepped in for defending champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
The much-anticipated fight between Tony and Khabib was cancelled for the fifth time after Khabib was stranded in Russia due to the coronavirus travel restrictions.
Justin stepped up with aplomb and put on a striking display and defence that left many in awe as he tactically outsmarted one of the most unorthodox and elite martial artists in the game, finishing Tony in the fifth round as the ref called a stoppage due to the copious amounts damage Tony took.
Credit must be given to Justin’s latest coach, Trevor Wittman for the manner in which he has improved Justin’s striking and the defence, minimising the damage Justin takes when engaging, so much so that even Khabib did not hold back in his praises for Mr Wittman.
“Justin has a very good coach, this is my opinion. He has a great coach, if you watched his last fight when he fought Tony, the way that Trevor cornered him, he gave him very good advice,” says Khabib in an interview with Independent Media and various media houses across the globe.
When asked about his thoughts on the fight and if it would be as close as many expect, Khabib was blunt about his plans.
“I dont think it's going to be a chess match. My fight IQ is much better than Justin’s, he is a tough guy, he likes fighting, he likes blood, he is like a real warrior, but in terms of fight IQ, my fighting IQ is much higher than his.”
An interesting point of this match will be Justin’s wrestling matched up with the superiority of Khabib’s chain wrestling and ruthless pressure.
Gaethje began wrestling when he was four years old. He was a two-time Arizona state champion and an NCAA Division - All-American during his time at the University of Northern Colorado.
Despite his wrestling background, Gaethje rarely looks for takedowns and is known for his aggressive stand-up fighting style. He has finished 19 of his 22 wins by knockout or technical knockout.
He may not utilise his wrestling much, but one cannot deny the reality that Justin has the artillery and experience to go deep into a wrestling match with an elite, only question is, can he do it against the king of the elites, Nurmagovedov who has proven time and time again that he is second to none, after finishing a number of athletes, including top stars, Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor in his last two fights.
“It’s going to be kickboxing and wrestling mixed, my goal is to make him tired.
“Of course, Justin can fight, he can go deep, and he has heart. But I am going to wrestle with him, if he defends once, I am going to try a second, third … 100 times. I am going to box with him and I am going to kick him,” added the Russian who sadly lost his father, mentor and coach, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov due to Covid-19 complications recently.
You can catch the live action on SuperSport Variety 3 starting at 6pm (Prelims) before the main card starts at 8pm.
Other events to look forward to on the night:
In the co-main event, former middleweight champion and No. 1 ranked Robert Whittaker takes on No. 3 Jared Cannonier in a pivotal bout with title implications.
Additional bouts on the card include:
Top 10 heavyweights face off as No. 6 ranked Alexander Volkov (31-8, fighting out of Moscow, Russia) battles No. 8 Walt Harris (13-8 1 NC, fighting out of Birmingham, Ala.)
No. 2 ranked women’s flyweight Cynthia Calvillo (9-1-1, fighting out of Sacramento, Calif.) and No. 4 ranked Lauren Murphy (13-4, fighting out of Glendale, Ariz.) look to make a statement and earn their first UFC title shot
No. 11 ranked light heavyweight Magomed Ankalaev (13-1, fighting out of Makhachkala, Russia) and Ion Cutelaba (15-5, fighting out of Chisinau, Maldova) finally meet in a highly anticipated bout guaranteed to deliver action
Stefan Struve (33-12, fighting out of Beverwijk, The Netherlands) locks horns with Tai Tuivasa (10-3, fighting out of Western Sydney, Australia) in a heavyweight bout
In a clash of UFC newcomers, Jacob Malkoun (4-0, fighting out of Sydney, Australia) meets Dana White’s Contender Series signee Phillip Hawes (8-2, fighting out of Albuquerque, N.M.) at middleweight
In an exciting welterweight bout, Alex Oliveira (22-8-1 2 NC, fighting out of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) aims to spoil the UFC debut of Shavkat Rakhmonov (12-0, fighting out of Kokshetau, Kazakhstan)
Da-un Jung (13-2, fighting out of Seoul, South Korea) seeks to stay undefeated in the UFC when he takes on veteran Sam Alvey (33-14, fighting out of Temecula, Calif.) at light heavyweight
UFC newcomers Umar Nurmagomedov (12-0, fighting out of Chelyabinsk, Russia) and Sergey Morozov (16-3, fighting out of Aktobe, Kazakhstan) aim to put on a show-stealing performance
Liana Jojua (8-3, fighting out of Tbilisi, Georgia) battles Invicta FC veteran Miranda Maverick (7-2, fighting out of Norfolk, Va.)
Top bantamweight prospects battle in a 140-pound catchweight bout as Nathaniel Wood (17-4, fighting out of London, England) meets Casey Kenney (15-2-1, fighting out of Tucsan, Ariz.)
In a lightweight bout, Joel Alvarez (17-2, fighting out of Asturias, Spain) looks to extend his win streak when he takes on Alexander Yakovlev (24-9-1, fighting out of Fairfield, N.J. by way of Saint Petersburg, Russia)