Justin Gaethje is just a week away from his fight against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone but he is still keeping a watchful eye on the UFC 242 main event between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Dustin Poirier.
The former World Series of Fighting Champion has a vested interest because he hopes two more wins will finally secure his shot at the UFC lightweight title. Add to that, Gaethje has history with Poirier after they put on arguably the best fight of the year in 2018 and he’s long desired the opportunity to face Nurmagomedov inside the Octagon.
As far as his prediction goes, Gaethje is reticent to go all in on either fighter but leans towards Nurmagomedov retaining his title in the fight with Poirier this weekend.
“It’s pretty tricky,” Gaethje explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “Who knows. Dustin is pretty athletic. Khabib’s style, he has a weird style, he doesn’t blast through you. He tangles you up and makes you scramble. That’s super draining on people. I think he’s going to find success in that.
“If he doesn’t find success in that in the first round, then Dustin has a very good chance to come out with the ‘W’. I’m sure smart money is on Khabib.”
Odds makers are seemingly counting Poirier out as a 4-to-1 underdog as he prepares to face Nurmagomedov this weekend but Gaethje doesn’t believe that’s a knock on the interim UFC lightweight champion.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with Dustin. It’s all about Khabib,” Gaethje said.
It’s understandable why Nurmagomedov has built up an aura of invincibility with a 27-0 record in his career while losing only one round on the judges’ scorecards through 11 fights with the UFC.
With a dominant grappling game constantly at his disposal, Nurmagomedov has consistently planted his opponents on the canvas at an incredible rate and no one has been able to escape him yet.
Still, Gaethje doesn’t believe the undefeated Russian is that difficult to defeat but rather he’s just got a style that has given nightmares to every opponent he’s faced.
“He’s not a monster,” Gaethje said about Nurmagaomedov. “He has one way to win and it’s very hard to stop. Nobody has stopped it yet. Does Dustin stop it? I don’t think so.”
If Nurmagomedov gets past Poirier, all signs point to an eventual showdown with former interim champion Tony Ferguson, who has rattled off 12 wins in a row.
Gaethje can’t say for certain if Nurmagomedov will stay undefeated after facing Poirier and Ferguson but he definitely believes he’s got the best chance to finally add a blemish to the UFC lightweight champion’s resume.
As a Division I All-American wrestler, Gaethje knows he’s got the grappling chops to stave off takedowns and he feels like the rest of his weapons would finally make Nurmagomedov look human after he’s cruised to victory in virtually every one of his UFC fights thus far.
“I was a great wrestler because I was very hard to score on. I didn’t have a great offense but I was super hard to score on,” Gaethje explained. “If you go back my whole career, [Michael] Johnson took me down for a second after he rocked me. I don’t know if I’ve ever been taken down outside of that.
“I don’t give up takedowns. I’m super athletic. My scrambling ability is second to none and I hit hard as f—k. I want to fight him. I’ve got to fight him. I hope he doesn’t retire before I fight him. A win here is huge.”
On the flipside, if Poirier is able of pulling off the upset on Saturday, Gaethje would be more than happy to eventually earn his way to that rematch as well so really he’s happy no matter who comes away with the title in the UFC 242 main event.
“It’s a little bit of a win-win for me,” Gaethje said. “The guy he’s fighting beat me so that’s good for me, too.”