Having shared the Octagon with incumbent UFC lightweight champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov as recently as October last, former interim champion, Justin Gaethje has claimed that anybody below the middleweight limit would fail in their bid to overthrow the undefeated sambo specialist.
Attempting to unify the lightweight titles, interim gold holder, Gaethje travelled to ‘Fight Island’ in October off the back of a four-fight winning spree which saw him snap longtime rival or Nurmagomedov, Tony Ferguson’s division-tying twelve-fight win streak at UFC 249 in May.
Struggling to mitigate and overcome the smothering pressure and pace-pushing style of Nurmagomedov, like twenty-eight prior to him, Gaethje landed a handful of punishing leg kicks in the opening round, as well as a few decent shots upstairs before Nurmagomedov pushed through and scored a late first-round takedown. Threatening with an armbar, the Octagon buzzer prevented the Russian from setting up the potential finish.
Less than two minutes into the second frame, Gaethje found himself on his back once more, this time off a takedown after he appeared to buckle Nurmagomedov’s left leg with a calf kick. Transitioning to his back after originally attempting to set up a mounted triangle, Nurmagomedov choked Gaethje unconscious, before announcing his retirement from mixed martial arts with immediate effect during his post-fight interview with UFC commentator, Jon Anik.
Reflecting on his clash with Nurmagomedov during a recent interview with ESPN MMA reporter, Brett Okamoto — Arizona native, Gaethje complimented the Dagestani’s overall strength and technique, before claiming anybody below 185-pounds would stand no chance of toppling him.
“I mean, he’s (Khabib Nurmagomedov) very strong, very strong,” Gaethje said. “You know, the transition from the takedown — you know, his ability to take shots, I landed some really, really clean shots and he’s got a hell of a poker face ’cause he acted — I know it hurt him, but he reacted like it didn’t hurt him.“
“He has a great jab, his jab is effective because of his level changes,” Gaethje explained. “I mean, you gotta almost pull your hips back every time he’s changing levels. I could’ve fought him a different way and tried to really stand my ground and not move like I did, you’ll never know — I’ll never know. But I’ll move on and keep working and push onto the next one. I’m not sure anybody under 185-pounds in the UFC or in the world could beat that man.“
Hoping to work his way back to a title shot in his next outing, Gaethje has welcomed all potential comers. Dropping an April 2018 knockout defeat to number-one ranked contender, Dustin Poirier — the Trevor Wittman product hopes to run it back with the Lafayette native in the future, but also noted his interest in potential clashes against Charles Oliveira, Michael Chandler, Nate Diaz, and rival, Conor McGregor.