Justin Gaethje knows the challenge ahead, but believes he can be the only one in 28-1 against Khabib Nurmagomedov this weekend.
The highly anticipated battle for the undisputed lightweight title takes place during the main event of Saturday’s UFC 254 event on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. Nurmagomedov overcame every opponent in front of him, mostly with relative ease thanks to his wrestling and wrestling pedigree.
“The Highlight” knows that could be a possibility in the Octagon on Saturday night. In a way, he is prepared for this outcome.
“I expect him to think that’s going to happen,” Gaethje told reporters at UFC 254 press conference on Wednesday. “I told myself this was going to happen and it motivates me every day. I’m an artist. I always show up under the lights and have been doing this for as long as him. This is ingrained in us. Saturday night, I will quit everything, give everything and be proud of my performance.
Gaethje became the interim lightweight champion with an outstanding performance against Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 in May, topping it off with a fifth round stoppage via TKO. After dropping back-to-back fights against Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, the 31-year-old has completed his last four fights en route to this opportunity to do something no man has done before.
Nurmagomedov became champion with a decision victory over Al Iaquinta at UFC 223. “The Eagle” continued to successfully defend the title with back-to-back wins over Poirier and Conor McGregor.
True, Gaethje is a fan of Nurmagomedov’s work, which is why he didn’t have to sit and study a lot of streaks on the champion. He is well aware that he has to keep things at bay to be successful.
“I haven’t watched any tape on Khabib,” Gaethje said. “I’ve watched his fights throughout his career because I’m a huge fan of everything. I have always focused on my best self. He hasn’t fought someone who’s been struggling as long as he, me. Everyone says he’s ready and I won’t allow him to put me on the fence. If I do, then I’m screwed.
“My plan is if we want to attack each other, we attack in the middle at all times. I’ve said it 1,000 times; I’m causing damage. I have dense bones and I’m going to kick his legs. This is where we will start and we will go from there.
With a more meticulous approach to his chaos in the Octagon, Gaethje is ready to shock the world and exchange his temporary belt for the undisputed crown. The only thing he wishes to be different is for the fight to take place in Nurmagomedov’s home country in front of Russian fans.
“If you come back a few years ago, I think I said I wanted to go to Brazil and fight my best, Ireland and fight my best, and I wanted to come to Russia and fight Khabib,” Gaethje explained. “It’s chaos. They wish you harm – they don’t necessarily want you to die or anything – but this hostility, I thrive.
“I can’t wait for people to be new. If there were 100,000 people who wanted me to die, that would be fantastic. It would be a great feeling.