Certainly one of my favourite issues anybody has stated within the buildup to the UFC 254 most important occasion this weekend got here from Khabib Nurmagomedov as he was discussing being on “Battle Island.”
Nurmagomedov (28-0, 12-Zero within the UFC) will probably be trying to unify his light-weight championship towards interim belt holder Justin Gaethje (22-2, 5-2 UFC) on Saturday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates — in an occasion that can occur within the afternoon, U.S. time (pay-per-view most important card at 2 p.m. ET). In a latest interview with ESPN, the champ principally outlined all of the the explanation why he should not be there. These included COVID-19 testing, weight reducing, interviews and stress. Frankly, a variety of stuff he may do with out.
“Why I come right here?” Nurmagomedov stated. “Every thing that is occurred the final 4 months, all the pieces occurring with COVID, why I would like this battle? I already one of many best, top-of-the-line fighters of all time. I’ve cash. I’ve title. I’ve enterprise. I’ve household, children. I’ve all the pieces. Why I would like battle?
“I’ve just one factor why I am right here. I actually wish to compete with high-level fighters on the planet. Justin Gaethje, proper now, interim champion, lot of individuals discuss he can beat me. OK, that is why I come right here, even after what occurred final 4 months.”
Sure, Nurmagomedov is the undefeated champion, the one trying to transfer to 29-Zero this weekend after which, doubtlessly, 30-Zero earlier than retirement. Everybody loses in MMA — that is what we at all times say. It is just about unimaginable to stroll away from the best degree with an ideal report. However Nurmagomedov is difficult that assertion, and that makes each one in all his fights important.
In a really massive means, although, this battle at UFC 254 feels large additionally due to Gaethje. Who would have ever thought, at first of 2020, we may transfer on from a canceled battle between Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson and by no means look again? We had waited 5 years for that Ferguson battle, which was booked 5 occasions, and it by no means occurred. However we’re OK with it due to what Gaethje did to Ferguson again in Might.
Unhealthy blood won’t have drawn Nurmagomedov again to the Octagon in 2020 after the dying of his father. Cash wouldn’t have drawn Nurmagomedov again to the Octagon. Justin Gaethje did, as a result of Nurmagomedov perceives Justin Gaethje as an actual risk.
And by the way in which, remember that Gaethje nixed the thought of preventing Conor McGregor this summer season as a result of a title battle towards Nurmagomedov was much more essential to him. How about that? Nearly each fighter on the planet would like to face McGregor, besides the 2 who’re preventing this weekend, Nurmagomedov and Gaethje.
In a sport that’s pushed by storylines, rivalries and sometimes the “cash battle,” this most important occasion feels nearly healthful in a means. To not point out, refreshing.
By the numbers
0: Gaethje fights within the UFC which have led to any consequence apart from a KO/TKO. He has knocked out 5 opponents and been KO’d by the opposite two. The 5 knockouts depart Gaethje simply two behind the lively chief amongst lightweights, Edson Barboza (a Gaethje KO sufferer, by the way in which). Gaethje has had seven UFC bouts, Barboza 24.
57: Takedowns within the light-weight division by Nurmagomedov, essentially the most amongst lively UFC 155-pounders. And the champ does one thing with these takedowns. He has landed 308 floor strikes throughout his UFC profession, essentially the most ever by a light-weight.
12: UFC victories for the unbeaten Nurmagomedov. A win Saturday would put him in a tie with Jon Jones, Demetrious Johnson and Max Holloway for the second most all time, behind Anderson Silva (16).
7.74: Vital strikes landed per minute by Gaethje, essentially the most in UFC historical past. And the challenger is correct, too, touchdown 59.2% of his makes an attempt, finest ever for a light-weight. That accuracy is essential towards a forward-moving takedown machine like Nurmagomedov. A swing and miss may end in Gaethje being taken to the canvas and smothered for the remainder of the spherical, if not worse.
17: Seconds that Gaethje has spent in backside place throughout his seven UFC fights (two takedowns). That’s simply 0.4% of his whole battle time, giving him the third-smallest proportion of backside place time in light-weight historical past. Gaethje’s takedown protection and skill to scramble again to his toes are going to be examined early and sometimes Saturday.
Sources: ESPN Stats & Data and UFC Stats
Crucial variety of all for MMA followers:
UFC 254’s uncommon morning begin time — do not miss it
11: Morning kickoff (ET) for early prelims on ESPN+, with extra prelims at midday on ESPN2, ESPN Deportes and ESPN+, adopted by the six-fight most important card at 2 p.m. on pay-per-view (which followers should purchase through ESPN+).
A glance again
5 vs. 5
Khabib Nurmagomedov’s most up-to-date outcomes
Win: Dustin Poirier (SUB3, Sept. 7, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Conor McGregor (SUB4, Oct. 6, 2018; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Al Iaquinta (UD, April 7, 2018; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Edson Barboza (UD, Dec. 30, 2017)
Win: Michael Johnson (SUB3, Nov. 12, 2016)
Justin Gaethje’s most up-to-date outcomes
Win: Tony Ferguson (TKO5, Might 9, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Donald Cerrone (TKO1, Sept. 14, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Edson Barboza (KO1, March 30, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: James Vick (KO1, Aug. 25, 2018)
Loss: Dustin Poirier (TKO4, April 14, 2018; watch on ESPN+)
Dom & Gil’s movie examine
Gilbert Melendez on Nurmagomedov’s tight takedowns:
Dominick Cruz on Gaethje’s ahead stress:
And the winner is …
Should you go by the betting odds, oddsmakers don’t see Gaethje as Nurmagomedov’s best problem. The champ is an even bigger favourite now than he was towards Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor in his final two fights, and even Edson Barboza years in the past. However to me, Gaethje poses the largest risk to this point. And I believe a part of that is because of timing. Gaethje appears to be on the absolute pinnacle of his profession. I am unsure he’ll ever be any higher (or extra assured) than he’s proper now. And as dominant as Nurmagomedov is, I can see a transparent path to victory for Gaethje. He has the cardio, the ending capacity, the wrestling background. I cannot be shocked if Gaethje wins this battle. I can not wager towards Nurmagomedov, although; it is unimaginable to do. In his hardest battle to this point, Nurmagomedov through determination.
Saturday’s battle card
PPV (through ESPN+), 2 p.m. ET
Khabib Nurmagomedov (c) vs. Justin Gaethje (ic) | Light-weight
Robert Whittaker vs. Jared Cannonier | Middleweight
Alexander Volkov vs. Walt Harris | Heavyweight
Jacob Malkoun vs. Phil Hawes | Middleweight
Lauren Murphy vs. Liliya Shakirova | Ladies’s flyweight
Magomed Ankalaev vs. Ion Cuțelaba | Mild heavyweight
ESPN2/ESPN Deportes/ESPN+, midday ET
Stefan Struve vs. Tai Tuivasa | Heavyweight
Nathaniel Wooden vs. Casey Kenney | 140-pound catchweight
Alex Oliveira vs. Shavkat Rakhmonov | Welterweight
Da Un Jung vs. Sam Alvey | Mild heavyweight
ESPN+, 11 a.m. ET
Liana Jojua vs. Miranda Maverick | Ladies’s flyweight
Joel Álvarez vs. Alexander Yakovlev | Light-weight
(c) = defending champion; (ic) = interim champ
How one can watch the fights
Watch the prelims on ESPN2 or ESPN Deportes: Obtain the ESPN App | WatchESPN | TV
Haven’t got ESPN2 or ESPN Deportes? Get immediate entry.
Haven’t got ESPN+ for the prelims and PPV? Get it right here.
Bought the battle in your cellphone and wish to stream in your TV? Learn how right here.
There’s additionally FightCenter, which presents dwell updates for each UFC card.
Three extra issues to know (from ESPN Stats & Data)
1. Jared Cannonier, who faces former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker within the co-main occasion, has an 84.6% end price (11 finishes in 13 wins). 9 of these finishes have been knockouts, together with in his three most up-to-date fights. Champion Israel Adesanya has already stated he want to subsequent face Cannonier, No. 5 within the ESPN middleweight rankings, if he can get previous the second-ranked Whittaker, whom Adesanya beat for the title final October.
2. Walt Harris has 13 knockouts in 13 profession victories. That is perfection. Maybe associated to that, he has the third-shortest common battle time amongst lively UFC heavyweights (6 minutes, 41 seconds). His opponent, Alexander Volkov, is ESPN’s eighth-ranked heavyweight. Volkov has the third-highest important strike differential in division historical past (2.35 landed for each one absorbed), in accordance with UFC Stats.
3. Lauren Murphy, No. 6 within the ESPN ladies’s flyweight rankings, was scheduled to face fifth-ranked Cynthia Calvillo, however Calvillo dropped out due to a optimistic COVID-19 take a look at. She was changed by Liliya Shakirova, who will probably be making her UFC debut. Shakirova (8-1) is on a three-fight profitable streak. Murphy has received 4 of 5 since transferring down from bantamweight, the place she was 1-3.
ESPN’s Jeff Wagenheim contributed to this battle preview.