Saturday night’s UFC 254 main event between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje has all the makings of an all-time classic. According to UFC President Dana White, the lightweight title fight is “trending to be the biggest fight” the UFC has ever put on.
The pre-fight build-up has been everything we have come to expect from an event that features the undefeated Russian champion. The talk of Nurmagomedov’s unparalleled work ethic and the importance of the bout for his legacy, as well as his opponent promising to bring unadulterated violence into the Octagon, is what makes this bout so exciting.
Both have long been synonymous with a Nurmagomedov fight. But there’s one thing that surrounds every fight featuring the lightweight champion more than any and that’s the idea that his current opponent is the one. The one challenger that can beat the seemingly unbeatable Nurmagomedov.
The promotion for the UFC 254 main event has been no different. Justin Gaethje is described as “the most dangerous challenge to Nurmagomedov’s title reign” by Joe Rogan in a recent promotional video. And Gaethje himself feels that he’s “unlike any fighter that has ever stepped in the Octagon.”
The promotional theme is clear to see. Khabib Nurmagomedov is a dominant, undefeated beast of a champion, but the vicious and unpredictable nature of Justin Gaethje will make this his hardest test thus far.
But Nurmagomedov has heard it all before, “before the fight, everybody talks about how it’s (Justin Gaethje) a good challenge, what are they going to say after when I smash this guy”. Khabib’s confidence is well deserved since he has utterly dominated the UFC’s toughest division.
This is another reason why this bout is so important. Gaethje isn’t just fighting for the belt and his legacy. He’s potentially fighting for the competitive balance of the UFC’s lightweight division. This may seem dramatic, but history doesn’t lie.
Champions as dominant as Nurmagomedov eventually run out of relevant opponents. Take Amanda Nunes and Jon Jones, for example, the key difference between Nurmagomedov and other dominant champions is that they’ve had to overcome serious adversity to keep their belts.
Nurmagomedov has not. He has made being a UFC champion look easy, and Justin Gaethje has stated that he believes Nurmagomedov has never lost a single round. Most of Nurmagomedov’s opponents posed questions that others didn’t and entered the Octagon with supreme confidence. They all left as victims of a one-sided mauling.
Edson Barboza, Al Iaquinta, Conor McGregor, and Dustin Poirier are all respected names that fell to the sword. Now the question is, besides Justin Gaethje who’s next?
The lightweight title picture consists of two men Nurmagomedov has already submitted (Poirier and McGregor who could fight at the start of 2021). Michael Chandler, a man that has never stepped foot in the Octagon, and Nurmagomedov’s longtime rival Tony Ferguson, who suffered a potentially career-altering beating at the hands of Gaethje earlier in the year.
Gaethje seems like the man most likely to beat or at least damage Nurmagomedov, both would be firsts. A great man once said, “if you could make God bleed, people will cease to believe in him”. Actually, it wasn’t a great man it was Mickey Rourke from Iron Man 2. But the point still stands.
While Nurmagomedov obviously isn’t a god, he’s as close as you can get to one in MMA terms. So in a fight dubbed “the most dominant vs the most violent”, millions of excited fans are intrigued if Gaethje can use his chaotic style of violence to inflict damage on the untouched and unbeaten Russian lightweight king.
‘The Highlight’ is one of the most entertaining and dangerous fighters of all time. One with a granite chin, incredible cardio, and impressive defensive wrestling. Everything about Gaethje seems different, we’ve never seen a guy with his mentality, grit, and overall lust for violence. He seems, dare I say it, like the one.
This Saturday night will show us how special both guys truly are as one man will leave ‘Fight Island’ the undisputed lightweight champion of the world. Gaethje plans to “cause massive damage to his legs, to his body, and to his face”. And even though his goal is to ultimately beat Nurmagomedov, Gaethje will first have to prove he can compete with him, and as 28 others have found out before him, it’s easier said than done.