UFC

UFC 254: Khabib Nurmagomedov v Justin Gaethje - the big fight focus

By Sports Desk October 22, 2020

Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje will put it all on the line in a mouth-watering lightweight unification bout that has undoubted fight-of-the-year potential at UFC 254.

Fearsome undefeated Russian Khabib puts up his title against interim champion Gaethje in Abu Dhabi in an intriguing fight between two contrasting styles.

Just five months ago, the prospect of these two mixing it to decide who the main man of the lightweight division is seemed pretty fanciful.

And then the course of history in arguably the most stacked category in UFC was altered dramatically in Jacksonville.

Journey with us as we recall how we got here and look at Khabib and Gaethje in profile ahead of Saturday's super showdown.


HOW DID WE GET TO THIS POINT?

An enthralling tale begins with a curse that has starved hungry UFC fans of a fight so many have wanted to see for so long.

Back in April, Khabib was supposed to face Tony Ferguson, only for the coronavirus pandemic to prevent the former from travelling to the United States. Incredibly, it was the fifth time a scheduled contest between the two legends of the game was kiboshed.

Instead, Gaethje stepped in to face Ferguson behind-closed-doors in May at a UFC 249 event that was moved from Brooklyn to Jacksonville.

It was supposed to be a formality. Ferguson was meant to come through an admittedly tricky challenge and then finally face Khabib later in 2020.

But Gaethje had not read the script and instead forged a path towards a shot at ultimate lightweight supremacy by stopping Ferguson with a brutal clinic to win the interim belt and immediately call out Khabib.

Rumours of retirement following the sad death of his father and coach Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov were denied by Khabib, who will now be back in the Octagon for the first time in over a year.


GREATEST ACHIEVEMENTS

Submission specialist Khabib is a hall-of-fame shoo-in and had already beaten notable names Rafael dos Anjos and Edson Barbosa by the time he defeated Al Iaquinta to capture the strap.

An infamous defence against Conor McGregor followed before his latest win over Dustin Poirier which means he remains undefeated in 28 professional MMA bouts.

The only two blots on Gaethje's impressive record are certainly no cause for shame, with Eddie Alvarez and Poirier the men to have defeated him.

Since that latter defeat, Gaethje has responded with four straight wins against James Vick, Barbosa, Donald Cerrone and Ferguson – the last of which of course saw him become interim champ.


WHAT'S THEIR MMA RECORD (W-L-D)?

Khabib: 28-0-0

Gaethje: 22-2-0


TALE OF THE TAPE

Khabib:

Age: 32
Height: 5' 10" (177cm)
Weight: 155 lbs (70 kg)
Reach: 70"
Leg Reach: 40"

Gaethje:

Age: 31
Height: 5' 11" (180cm)
Weight: 155 lbs (70 kg)
Reach: 70"
Leg Reach: 40"


WHAT THEY'VE SAID ABOUT THE FIGHT

Khabib: "I'm focused on Justin Gaethje on Saturday night. What the UFC has after this fight you'd be better to ask this guy [Dana White], because he calls us and then we talk about fights. What's going to happen after I don't know. Right now, I'm focused on Justin Gaethje."

Gaethje: "I know he's confident in what he does. He's done it 28 times. I expect him to believe that's what's going to happen. I've been telling myself that's what's going to happen, as a matter of fact. That's what drives me every single day. I'm a performer, I always show up under the lights, that's what I do. I've been doing this as long as he has."


FIGHT STATS IN UFC

Khabib:

- Khabib has an average fight time of 13 minutes and 56 seconds, with 36 per cent of his victories coming via submission.

- He has landed 49 per cent of significant strikes and lands 4.29 significant strikers per minute on average.

- In terms of grappling, Khabib has a takedown average of 5.09 per 15 minutes and a takedown success rate of 44 per cent.

- Khabib has defended against 66 per cent of significant strikes and 84 per cent of takedowns.

Gaethje:

- Gaethje connects on average with 7.74 significant strikes per minute and has a success rate of 59 per cent with such strikes.

- The American has won 86 per cent of his fights via way of KO/TKO, with five per cent via submission and nine per cent from a decision.

- The average fight time for Gaethje stands at 10 minutes and 11 seconds.

- He has guarded against 54 per cent of significant strikes and has a takedown defence of 80 per cent.

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