Arguably the most anticipated UFC title fight of 2020 is getting closer to being official. Combate is reporting that the UFC is close to finalizing the lightweight title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0) and Justin Gaethje (22-2). The anticipated matchup would headline UFC 253 on September 19th. UFC President, Dana White, has recently said that they were targeting this matchup for September.
Nurmagomedov looks to overcome a tough 2020
For champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, 2020 has not been the best of years. He was scheduled to fight Tony Ferguson at UFC 249, but was forced to pull out of the event due to travel restrictions in Russia. Following that, his father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, was diagnosed with COVID-19. He’s been in critical condition for a significant portion of time. Despite all of this, Khabib has been in the gym and said to be more motivated than ever to defend his UFC lightweight title. He’s said to be using everything from this year as motivation for him to put on the best performance of his career.
Nurmagomedov has been one of the more dominating fighters the UFC has ever seen. His record is almost confusing because you never see someone reach a record like 28-0 in MMA. Nurmagomedov’s last two performances were the best of his career. At UFC 229, Nurmagomedov smashed bitter rival, Conor McGregor, then submitted him in the fourth round. After being suspended due to a post-fight brawl, Nurmagomedov made his return last September against Dustin Poirier. Poirier had won the interim lightweight title in Khabib’s absense. The fight was very similar to the McGregor fight in that Nurmagomedov had his way before submitting Poirier in the third round. Nurmagomedov might be facing his biggest challenge yet in the form of current interim champion, Justin Gaethje.
Gaethje looks to continue his run to the undisputed UFC title
Back in April of 2018, Justin Gaethje was knocked out in the fourth round by Dustin Poirier at UFC on Fox 29. It was the second straight knockout loss for Gaethje, and he realized he needed to make a big career change. Gaethje said that he would start to have fun in the middle of a brawl which would leave him susceptible to counters which would hurt him badly. Gaethje and coach, Trevor Wittman, started working on Gaethje being more technical and patient inside the octagon. Since the mental change, there has been nobody more impressive in the UFC‘s lightweight division than Gaethje.
Since the loss to Poirier, Gaethje has gone 4-0 with four knockouts including three in the first round. Gaethje’s last performance against Tony Ferguson was truly the “Highlight” of his career. Despite Nurmagomedov being the champion, many people believed that Tony Ferguson was the best lightweight in the world. The two were scheduled to fight before Khabib couldn’t leave Russia. Gaethje decided to step in, and he put on the best performance of his career. Outside of getting dropped in the second round, Gaethje controlled the entire fight before stopping Ferguson in the fifth round to win the UFC‘s interim lightweight championship. These two lightweight superstars are on a collision course, and only one man will leave the undisputed lightweight champion.
This is a very fascinating matchup to breakdown when you think about it stylistically. To date, nobody has been able to stop Nurmagomedov from taking them down. Gaethje is a tremendous wrestler, but in college, he was known for his defensive wrestling. He was incredibly hard to take down. Looking at the two, Gaethje definitely has the advantage on the feet. Gaethje has incredible hands and arguably the best leg kicks in the business. This fight will truly come down to the takedown. If Nurmagomedov can get Gaethje to the ground, it will be just like another Khabib fight. If he can’t, it could be a long night for the Russian. I cannot wait to break this fight down as we get closer to UFC 253.