Former interim lightweight champion Justin Gaethje believes he almost had Khabib Nurmagomedov during their UFC 254 main event match-up this past weekend.

‘The Highlight’ fell to a second-round technical submission loss as Nurmagomedov successfully locked up a triangle. The referee missed Gaethje tapping and unfortunately, the top contender was choked out.

Prior to the submission defeat, Gaethje thinks he was doing really good work on the feet, especially with his low leg kicks. The 31-year-old says he only needed to land a few more to leave his Russian opponent unable to walk and therefore unable implement his famous wrestling game.

“It sucks, I’m hurt,” Gaethje told ESPN post-fight. “It’s emotional. Ultimately, it’s the name of the game, man. I had him in trouble. I wasn’t very many kicks away from him not being able to walk. He’s going to limp … limping for at least the next three weeks. That’s nothing to be proud of because I lost, but, I felt alive … I felt great. I believe I did a great job of causing damage. Keeping the distance, controlling the distance, threatening and causing damage. I caused damage in there.

“I know he was in a bad spot,” Gaethje added. “Even if he wasn’t, he did what he had to do. Took me down. He is very strong. I know he made his father so proud.” (Transcribed by MMA Mania)

During his own post-fight speech Nurmagomedov announced his retirement from MMA. The 29-0, lightweight king insisted he no longer wanted to compete after losing his father earlier this year.

After hearing this Gaethje tried to angle his way into another title shot, calling out Conor McGregor for the now vacant title.

“With him retiring, I’m No. 1,” Gaethje said. “Poirier and (Conor) McGregor are going to fight (Jan. 23). They haven’t made it official, so if McGregor wants to bounce out and get the belt, then I’m right here. If they want to give it to someone else, then so be it. But I’ll be ready. I’m ready to fight again. This is my job. This is my life. I love it so much.” (Transcribed by MMA Junkie)

Do you think Justin Gaethje had Khabib Nurmagomedov in trouble before being submitted?

A lifelong fight fan from Liverpool, England who has been covering mixed martial arts (MMA) and boxing for several years. Follow @JordanEllisUK on Twitter for all the latest fight news, views, interviews and live event coverage.