Justin Gaethje compares UFC 254 clash with Khabib to Chess match

Justin Gaethje isn't bothered about the underdog tag placed on him ahead of his Lightweight unification bout with Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 254 on the Fight Island.

Justin Gaethje: "It's the biggest fight of my life." - TWITTER (@UFC)

Interim UFC Lightweight Champion Justin Gaethje isn't bothered about the underdog tag placed on him ahead of his unification bout with undefeated titleholder Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi, UAE, in less than three weeks.

Khabib, who holds a 28-0 record in his MMA career, is the clear favourite heading to Fight Island. However, Gaethje isn't reading too much into it because he believes situations like these have brought out the best in him in the past.

"I'm happy to be the underdog. I had lost when I was the favourite against Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier. But I beat James Vick and Tony Ferguson, being the underdog. So that's brilliant," the interim champ told, during a virtual UFC media conference.

"It's the biggest fight of my life. My confidence paired with the power I possess and the coach (Trevor Wittman) I have, it's a dangerous combination. This sport involves a lot of hard work and skill, and a bit of luck. So, anybody can go to sleep."

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Gaethje, 31, got the better of then No. 1 contender, Ferguson, displaying his striking prowess at UFC 249 in May this year. That victory booked him a Lightweight Title fight against Khabib to determine the undisputed champion.

Khabib is one of the best ever in UFC when it comes to the ground and pound style. Several MMA critics feel this factor could be a disadvantage for Gaethje, despite his wrestling background. But the American challenger feels he has the right strategy to overcome his 32-year-old Russian opponent.

'Chess match'

"I've wrestled my whole life. A huge part of wrestling is not allowing someone to hold you down. I never had a great offence but you can't take me down easily. I have to focus on not being on the fence. And even if I'm taken down, I have to make him work as though his life depends on it," he added.

"This is a World Championship fight. He's No. 2 in the pound-for-pound rankings. Controlling the distance is important in any fight. I can't be in a straight line with him. I have to keep changing tracks. If he's closing the distance, I at least have to threaten damage. It's going to be a chess match against Khabib."

Gaethje claimed that the win over Ferguson five months ago heavily boosted his confidence, thereby improving his chances at Fight Island.


"Tony never got close to me. I was very surprised that I could fight for so long and be effective. That encounter added to my confidence, which is super important going into this fight," said Gaethje.

He also elaborated on some of his plans post UFC 254. Considering that he comes out on top, Gaethje is eager to avenge his loss to Poirier in April 2018, which is one of the two in his career.

"I guess Khabib is going to fight Georges St-Pierre after our bout. I'll have the belt and be ready for anyone. Personally, avenging a loss against Poirier will be very important for me."

Watch UFC 254 featuring a Lightweight Title bout between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje, LIVE and Exclusive on SONY TEN 2 and SONY TEN 3 (Hindi) channels on 24th October 2020, from 11:30 PM (IST).

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