The head coach of American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) Javier Mendez believes Justin Gaethje is the second-best fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov has ever faced. The lightweight pair will unify the division at UFC 254 on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi later this month.
Mendez notes Gaethje is a tough test but believes former dual weight UFC champion Conor McGregor remains Nurmagomedov’s most dangerous opponent to date, although his opinion could be changed on October 24.
“Just without anything right now, I rank him second. But he could be number one easily,” Mendez told Submission Radio. “I rank him second behind Conor, but I could be wrong on that. He could be more dangerous than Conor. We’ll see. If we’re not able to take him to the ground, we’re going to have a fight on our hands, and I’m anticipating we’re gonna have a fight on our hands. Because if I don’t anticipate that and it does happen, I’m gonna be caught not thinking properly. So, I’m assuming that the process is, we can’t take him down, we have to stand with him. That’s what in my mind I’m assuming. But I’m hoping that’s not the case.”
Mendez went on to explain McGregor’s world class striking is what makes him a more dangerous opponent but if Gaethje is able to defend Khabib’s takedowns he would instantly become their toughest task to date.
“Well, Conor’s precision striking [makes him more dangerous than Gaethje]. To me, Conor is just the best striker ever in the lightweight division, I think personally,” Mendez said. “And Gaethje, with his wrestling, he creates a big problem, he really does. And his power and his guts. And I mean, hey, man, he’s coming to fight, he’s coming to fight. He’s not gonna run from you. He’s coming to you. And if you’re not fighting him, you’re not beating him. You have to fight him. You have to. And we’re prepared for that. We know what he brings to the table, he brings a lot. And I only rank him two only because of the unknown. If it was known that we could take him down no problem, then he wouldn’t be number one, Conor is. But what if we can’t take him down? Then obviously he takes that number one spot because then that would make it the most difficult fight we’ve ever had. And he could very well be number one.”