Justin Gaethje: If Khabib Nurmagomedov can do this, I’m screwed

At the UFC 254 pre-fight press conference, interim lightweight champ Justin Gaethje discussed expectations held by many fans that division champion Khabib Nurmagomedov’s wrestling will yet again prove dominating.

“I expect him to believe that’s going to happen,” said Gaethje. “I’ve been telling myself that’s going to happen and it drives me every single day. I’m a performer. I always show up under the lights and I’ve been doing this as long as he has. This is ingrained in us. On Saturday night I will leave everything, give everything, and be proud of my performance.”

Nurmagomedov’s wrestling-heavy strategy is no secret. It’s one he’s used to every round but one in his eight-year, twelve-fight career in the UFC. However, Khabib has never faced a top wrestler in the UFC. Dustin Poirier wrestled in high school. Al Iaquinta wrestled in high school and at Nassau Community College. Michael Johnson was a top NJCAA wrestler, but was never Div I. Pat Healy wrestled Div II, but without great distinction. Justin Gaethje on the other hand was a Div I All American, and he uses his wrestling to keep the fight standing, where he can do what he most loves to.

“I didn’t watch any tape on Khabib,” said Gaethje. “I’ve watched his fights throughout his career because I’m a huge fan of everything. I’ve always focused on being my best self. He hasn’t fought someone that’s grappled as long as he has, I have. Everyone says they’re ready and I will not allow him to put me on the fence. If I do, then I’m screwed.

“My plan is if we’re gonna grapple, let’s grapple in the middle at all times. I’ve said it 1,000 times – I cause damage. I have dense bones and I’m gonna kick his legs. That’s where we’re gonna start and we’ll go from there.”

Gaethje has only one regret heading into the fight.

“If you go back a couple of years ago, I think I said I wanted to go to Brazil and fight their best, Ireland and fight their best, and I wanted to come to Russia and fight Khabib,” he said. “That’s the chaos. They wish ill on you—they don’t necessarily want you to die or anything—but that hostility, I thrive in.

“I can’t wait for there to be people back up. If there was 100,000 people wanting me to die it would be fantastic. It would be such a great feeling.”

h/t Mike Heck for MMA Fighting

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