Khabib Nurmagomedov has never lost in MMA and only lost one round to Conor McGregor in his entire UFC tenure. He has been as dominant as you can be as a champion, yet his road ahead at lightweight is certainly a tough one.
When the UFC returns to holding events, Nurmagomedov’s next title defense should come against the winner of Tony Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje. Both of them pose problems for the champ. He also could see a rematch with Conor McGregor down the line and looking down the rankings, Charles Oliveira’s style could pose some threats to the champ. So, who has the best chance to end the Nurmagomedov’s reign?
Nurmagomedov uses his dominant wrestling to maul his opponents on the ground with vicious ground and pound until he can sink in a submission. So far, no one has been able to keep the fight standing, and on the feet, the Russian has improved striking. He dropped McGregor and pieced up Al Iaquinta to win the title.
But, one person who stylistically poses a ton of problems for Khabib Nurmagomedov is Justin Gaethje. Although many will say Tony Ferguson has the best chance to dethrone the Russian, “El Cucuy” gets hit a lot and often gets taken down, which would be a massive problem against Nurmagomedov. Gaethje, meanwhile, is a former NCAA Division-1 All-American. He also has insane power where he can catch the champ and put him out cold.
Entering the McGregor fight, many thought the Irishman had the best chance to hand Nurmagomedov’s first loss given all he needs is one punch. It will no doubt be a tough task to beat the Dagestani native by decision. In Gaethje’s case, he has a very good shot to keep the fight standing and rock and finish the champ.
In his UFC career, Gaethje has an 80 percent takedown percentage which should bode well against Nurmagomedov. If he keeps it on the feet he could use his powering leg kicks to make the Russian feel uncomfortable. “The Highlight” also lands a spectacular 8.50 significant strikes per minute and absorbs 10.23 significant strikes per minute.
Against Nurmagomedov, Gaethje would no doubt take a punch or two to give one. In every Gaethje fight, he has his opponents hurt at some point, and his power still lasts into the later rounds. Ultimately, against The Highlight, you are either going out cold or he is, and that is what would happen against Nurmagomedov.
Even many pros like Dustin Poirier who have fought both of them believes Gaethje can beat Nurmagomedov. In order for that to happen, Gaethje will need to get past Ferguson on May 9.
Do you agree that Justin Gaethje has the best chance to end Khabib Nurmagomedov’s reign as lightweight champion?
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This article first appeared on BJPENN.com on 4/15/2020.