UFC 254: Khabib vs Gaethje Preview
BarnBurner Sports Writer
Saturday, October 24, 2020
The UFC wrap up another successful lineup of events at ‘Fight Island’ when they host UFC 254 at the Flash Forum on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. The event will be headlined by perhaps one of the biggest fights of the year as reigning UFC Lightweight Champion Khabib ‘The Eagle’ Nurmagomedov (28-0) defends his title against Interim-Lightweight Champion Justin ‘The Highlight’ Gaethje (22-2).
This fight was made official after Gaethje became the interim-Lightweight Champion after defeating Tony Ferguson via TKO at UFC 249 and at the same time, earn a title unification bout with Khabib. Khabib and Ferguson were originally scheduled to headline the event however, Khabib was forced to pull out of the event due to travel restrictions that had been in place as a result of COVID-19.
As a result, Gaethje, who had been on a three-fight winning streak that saw him finish all his opponents in the first round, stepped in to replace Khabib and took full advantage of his opportunity. Rather than pull out of the event and try rescheduling the title fight with Khabib, Ferguson took a huge risk by accepting a short notice interim title fight against Gaethje. It was competitive for the first two rounds; Ferguson was able to catch Gaethje with an uppercut, but Gaethje took over in the later rounds and landed many significant strikes that left Ferguson busted open, before the referee intervened and stopped the fight at 3:38 of the fifth round.
Although he is the underdog in this fight, Gaethje is as motivated and confident as ever that he will be the one to take the title off Khabib and hand the dominant champion the first loss of his MMA career. While speaking to the media ahead of this title bout, Gaethje was confident that his fighting style will be too much for Khabib to handle:
“There’s gonna be a zone in front of me, it’s not very big, and I have to represent death every time he enters his zone. That’s what I’m the best at…creating carnage…creating car crashes.”
Khabib on the other hand will be looking to not only successfully retain his Lightweight title, but also prove that he is the most dominant fighter in the UFC as well as the pound for pound best fighter in the world.
Khabib is not like most fighters; he is not too concerned with money fights, but instead, his interests are pursuing fights that are meaningful to his legacy in the sport and those that will elevate him to being recognized as the best fighter regardless of weight-class. This is the reason why Khabib has turned down multiple offers for a rematch with former champion Conor McGregor, even though he beat him in the first fight and that a rematch would generate much more money for himself, McGregor, and the UFC.
If Gaethje defeats Khabib and ends his undefeated streak, he will definitely be at the top of the pound-for-pound rankings. On the other hand, if Khabib retains in dominant fashion, he may not feel the other top lightweights like McGregor, Ferguson, Poirier, or even new signing Michael Chandler are enough to elevate his legacy, which could see former UFC Middleweight and Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre return for a superfight with Khabib.
Khabib has expressed plenty of interest in fighting St-Pierre and could get his wish if he gets the win over Gaethje and is dominant in doing so.
UFC 254 will have a special start time as the main card kicks off at 2pm EST.
Photo Credit: UFC (@ufc)