Important figures in the UFC say Justin Gaethje will be the toughest test of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s entire career

  • Significant people in the UFC describe Justin Gaethje as Khabib Nurmagomedov's most dangerous opponent to date.
  • The two lightweight competitors will fight at the behind-closed-doors UFC 254 event, which takes place at the Flash Forum on Fight Island, Abu Dhabi, on Saturday.
  • The UFC President Dana White said Gaethje has the "perfect style" to trouble Nurmagomedov, and the UFC commentator Dan Cormier said he's the most exciting fighter in all combat sports.
  • Lightweight contender Dustin Poirier meanwhile said that whoever controls the real estate in the Octagon, will likely control the fight itself and find a way to win the bout.
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FIGHT ISLAND — Significant people in the UFC say Justin Gaethje is going to be the toughest test of Khabib Nurmagomedov's entire career.

The UFC lightweight champion Nurmagomedov, who is undefeated as a pro MMA fighter after 28 fights, defends his record and his title at Saturday's UFC 254 event, the finale of UFC's second residency on Fight Island, Abu Dhabi.

Nurmagomedov may have defeated Rafael dos Anjos, Conor McGregor, and Dustin Poirier but it is Gaethje — who is riding the high of a Tony Ferguson bludgeoning in May — who has the "perfect style" to defeat him.

That's according to the UFC President Dana White, who put this bout together to unify Nurmagomedov's championship with Gaethje's interim title.

"The thing that makes this such a great fight is that Justin Gaethje has the perfect style [to defeat Khabib]," White told Yahoo Sports.

White hailed Gaethje's MMA wrestling skillset. "Not just wrestling, but MMA wrestling. He's very good with his wrestling as it applies to the sport of mixed martial arts.

"Then, he has knockout power in both hands. He's not afraid to go after anybody and mix it up.

The UFC commentator and former two-weight champion Daniel Cormier agrees with his boss, telling the media at a Fight Island press event last week that it is the "toughest fight in the division for [Nurmagomedov]."

Cormier is a close friend of Nurmagomedov's, and has trained alongside him at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California.

Though he is confident in Nurmagomedov's commitment and discipline, he is wary about the threat Gaethje poses. "Justin Gaethje is an absolute stud," said Cormier.

"They call him the human-highlight and the most exciting in the game, it's true. Not just the game, but all of combat sport.

"There is no fighter in all sport who is as exciting as Justin Gaethje, boxing, kickboxing, mixed martial arts — you'll find nobody more exciting and better.

"If the Justin Gaethje who fought Tony Ferguson in May [turns up on fight night Saturday, then he] is more dangerous than anyone [Nurmagomedov] has ever stood across the Octagon from."

Controlling the Octagon's real estate will control the fight itself, according to Dustin Poirier

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

UFC lightweight competitor, Dustin Poirier, who lost to Nurmagomedov in Abu Dhabi last year, and is tentatively scheduled to fight Conor McGregor on January 23, told The Fight with Teddy Atlas show on YouTube that the outcome of the fight will likely be determined by where in the Octagon the majority of the fight takes place.

"It comes down to the execution," said Poirier.

"If Gaethje can keep his feet in the center of the Octagon and his back off of the fence, I think he has the credentials, experience, and wrestling to keep [the fight] on the feet.

"And we know what he does when he's throwing those overhands, and he's brawling, anyone can get hit with that."

Poirier said he finds it easier to defend against textbook-style shots. The jab and overhand right in a classic, one-two combination, or a jab, overhand right, and hook sequence in an orthodox one-two-three combo.

The Louisianan said Gaethje does not do this, and so it is likely tougher to block or evade the shots altogether.

"One-twos, one-two-threes, the good technique — I think that's easier to deal with — than a guy throwing overhands and winging punches. Those angles and timing are different," he said.

"It's going to execution and who can execute their gameplan. If Khabib can bully him against the fence he's going to win in this fight. If Gaethje can keep it in the middle of the Octagon, I think he's going to win.

"He's probably the most decorated wrestler Khabib has fought … but in collegiate wrestling, there's no fence, and that's where Khabib mauls guys.

"I've never felt anybody like that in training before, the way Khabib felt against that fence. And we'll see if Khabib is prepared for that."

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