The look ahead to UFC followers eagerly awaiting the battle between provisional light-weight champion Justin Gaethje and world title holder Khabib Nurmagomedov will quickly be over. The favored fighters will meet on Saturday at UFC 254 on “Struggle Island” in Abu Dhabi.
Gaethje will depend on energy strokes and athleticism when attempting to provide Nurmagomedov (28: 0) his first defeat. Gaethje should even be able to decelerate the relentless pressures Nurmagomedov has with wrestling, takedowns and the power to dominate his opponents by pushing them to the aspect of the cage and controlling the motion.
What if Gaethje wins? May there be a repute for a sure well-liked former champion?
The co-main occasion can be very fascinating. Former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker takes on Jared Cannonier, with the winner doubtlessly taking a middleweight title in opposition to champion Israel Adesanya.
Will Cannonier, fifth within the ESPN division rankings, transfer up along with his fourth straight win, or will Whittaker cement his place because the division’s primary?
ESPN MMA specialists Ariel Helwani, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi, and Jeff Wagenheim break up the true and non-real headings in UFC 254.
Actual or not: Justin Gaethje will end some of the dominant runs in MMA historical past on Saturday
Justin Gaethje earned a struggle night time bonus each time he stepped the octagon. Take a look at the most effective moments as he battles for the preliminary light-weight title. Order UFC 249 right here on ESPN + espn.com/ppv.
Raimondi: There isn’t any tougher matchup for Nurmagomedov within the UFC light-weight division than Gaethje. That distinction was as soon as reserved for Tony Ferguson, however Gaethje’s breakdown from Ferguson at UFC 249 in Might was eye-opening. This isn’t the identical Gaethje who earlier misplaced to Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier in his UFC run. His improvement beneath coach Trevor Wittman has been unimaginable. The ruthless, free working Gaethje has disappeared. He is simply as aggressive as by no means earlier than, however Gaethje is now technical and tactical to associate with it. Gaethje is now utilizing his aggression as a part of his technique as a substitute of being a possible albatross. He is not almost as threatened. Gaethje is actually some of the harmful and violent strikers in MMA.
The longer Gaethje stays on his toes in opposition to Nurmagomedov, the higher. In a pure stand-up struggle, Gaethje wins. However that is a giant job. Nurmagomedov is arguably the most effective MMA wrestler of all time. No one places their will right into a struggle higher than the UFC light-weight champion. Everybody is aware of they will wrestle and nobody can cease it. Gaethje was a Division I All-American wrestler and has an distinctive protection. It’s troublesome to foretell who will comprise Nurmagomedov’s wrestling and argument at this level. In a five-round struggle, Nurmagomedov will finally defeat his enemy. And when he does, he is normally both doing hurt or working for a submission.
One of many large questions is how Nurmagomedov’s wrestling will have an effect on Gaethje’s strike. Will the takedown menace have an effect on any a part of Gaethje’s effectiveness at kickboxing? It is a technique – simply ask Conor McGregor, whom Nurmagomedov dropped with an overhand proper when he fought at UFC 229 in 2018. Whereas Gaethje has the abilities to change into aggressive and presumably even win, taking part in in opposition to Nurmagomedov is a breeze. He is the most effective of all time, he is nonetheless in his prime and since we will solely predict the longer term by historical past, Nurmagomedov needs to be the selection.
Actual or not: Gaethje will not cease Nurmagomedov from pushing him in opposition to the cage, and that can show to be essential
Unlocking Victory exhibits how successfully Khabib Nurmagomedov switches off in opposition to the cage and the way Justin Gaethje can counter.
Wagenheim: The cage is Nurmagomedov’s good friend. If an opponent is trapped in opposition to the fence, the struggle will undoubtedly go to the canvas and that’s the place the struggle begins. So warding off Khabib is only a matter of staying within the middle of the octagon? It isn’t really easy. Nurmagomedov will try a takedown in open area and if his opponent defends efficiently, Khabib will simply hold attacking him. The champion’s chain wrestling assault retains the opposite fighter on the defensive and guesses the place the struggle will finally finish: in opposition to the cage.
Nurmagomedov has not been held in a struggle with out a number of defeats since 2013. So it’s not an issue to venture that he’ll deliver Gaethje onto the display screen a few times. However are you aware what Khabib hasn’t had since 2013? A end on the primary spherical. This means that Gaethje has multiple likelihood to struggle the place he’s most harmful – in stand-up – as a result of that’s the place each spherical begins.
How does Gaethje hold the struggle going so lengthy that it does the harm for which it’s recognized? Properly, contemplating that none of Nurmagomedov’s earlier 28 opponents had a solution to that, I am not going to provide a solution however a riddle: when does a takedown not defend a takedown?
It’s when your offensive efficiency is so relentless that Khabib himself stays on the defensive and can’t get his wrestling assault into rhythm.
Do you keep in mind how McGregor’s coach John Kavanagh assessed his husband’s struggle with Nurmagomedov in 2018? He stated they spent a lot time at coaching camp honing McGregor’s defensive wrestling that his notoriously correct and lethal stand-up assault received to the purpose on struggle night time. “We centered an excessive amount of on protection,” stated Kavanagh.
Gaethje can’t focus on staying out of hazard. He should go into battle with an perspective of endangering Nurmagomedov. If that is his psychological method, he has an opportunity to exit with the belt. If not, no shot.
Actual or not: if Gaethje wins, he calls McGregor. If Nurmagomedov wins, there might be no callout
Georges St-Pierre talks a few attainable UFC comeback and his potential curiosity in preventing Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Okamoto: You see, that is what makes the information that McGregor will struggle Poirier on January 23rd so unusual to me. Or not less than the timing of the information. Why is McGregor so optimistic concerning the struggle in opposition to Poirier when the light-weight championship is simply across the nook? And I say this, I would not be shocked if the UFC (or McGregor) dragged their toes on the Poirier rematch paperwork simply to see what occurs on Saturday. As a result of sure, if Gaethje wins, he calls McGregor. And I believe McGregor would need it.
If Nurmagomedov wins, issues are far much less clear. No, I do not assume there might be a “callout” per se. However I believe if Nurmagomedov wins he might be requested a few struggle with Georges St-Pierre and he’ll truthfully reply that sure, this can be a struggle he desires. Whether or not it occurs or not who is aware of? However it’s introduced up.
Actual or not, Robert Whittaker will remind folks why he is among the many high two middleweights on the earth
Darren Until and Robert Whittaker take turns and drop to the mat firstly of their matchup.
Helwani: It is rather actual. I believe individuals are getting some sleep on Whittaker, who’s going to struggle on Saturday, as a result of they need a brand new matchup for champion Adesanya. If Cannonier beats Whittaker, it looks like a no brainer to search out Adesanya vs. Cannonier subsequent to ebook for the middleweight title. Nonetheless, if Whittaker wins it will get somewhat extra sophisticated as a result of Adesanya beat Whittaker in a really convincing means simply over a yr in the past and I do not assume there may be a lot demand proper now to see this rematch anytime quickly.
In consequence, I really feel like the general public is considerably subconsciously ignoring Whittaker going into this struggle. However lest we overlook that Whittaker regarded nice in opposition to Darren Until in July and Cannonier hasn’t fought in about 13 months. These two elements favor Whittaker. That is by far the largest struggle in Cannonier’s profession whereas Whittaker has been right here earlier than. Plus, this would be the hardest struggle in Cannonier’s profession, and if he wins he’ll undoubtedly deserve a title shot. However I do not assume a “W” is simple, and I believe Whittaker is on a mission to show that at 185 he is nonetheless the person.