On the eve of UFC 254’s highly-anticipated lightweight showdown between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje, fans, experts and fighters are making their predictions.
Does Gaethje possess the perfect attributes to hand the Russian his first defeat or will Khabib maul his challenger to extend that perfect record to 29-0.
Some of the biggest stars in MMA have weighed in with their verdict and opinion has been split by this mouthwatering clash.
Khabib Nurmagomedov (left) defends his lightweight title against Justin Gaethje on Saturday
DOMINIC REYES – No 2 ranked UFC light-heavyweight
‘That’s a real fight, I’m going to go with my boy Gaethje though. I think he has the wrestling to nullify Khabib and he’s a much, much cleaner and better striker,’ the former title challenger was among those who spoke to Submission Radio.
LEON EDWARDS – Former No 3 ranked UFC welterweight
‘It is hard to pick against Khabib, what he’s done in his career and how he’s done it in his career. He’s only lost about one round in his whole career. I think it will be a hard fight for him though, not an easy one, Gaethje is wild, good cardio, tough, good wrestling. Good fight but I think Khabib gets it done.’
MICHAEL CHIESA – No 7 ranked UFC welterweight
‘I think the way you beat Khabib is you have to stay moving on the ground. You cannot accept or concede a position one time or the fight is over, the second you ease up, the fight is over. I think Gaethje will push Khabib in a way he hasn’t been pushed and we don’t know Khabib’s mental state.’
UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski is tipping Khabib to keep his belt
ALEXANDER VOLKANOVSKI – UFC featherweight champion
‘This one is a tricky one. Have we seen Gaethje taken down and controlled? I don’t believe I have, obviously he’s a very good wrestler, very explosive. So I believe this is a dangerous fight for Khabib but then you look at Khabib and his control which is next level. I’ll have to go purely on that. I won’t believe anyone can deal with it until I see it.’
COLBY COVINGTON – No 1 ranked UFC welterweight
‘I think it will be a good fight, Justin has looked good lately but I don’t know, he fights recklessly, but he has the good wrestling and the accolades to maybe stop Khabib.’
Colby Covington slightly sat on the fence but appeared to just favour the challenger
Dan Hooker (left) believes it will be a hard-fought battle with Khabib coming out on top
STEPHEN THOMPSON – No 4 ranked UFC welterweight
‘Gaethje does have good wrestling, do I think it is good enough for Khabib? I don’t. If he can keep the fight standing up then he definitely has a chance. I think he’s got a puncher’s chance but I know Khabib can get him down on the ground. I think Khabib is going to go out there and do what he does to everybody else. I think he outworks him.’
DAN HOOKER – No 5 ranked UFC lightweight
‘I feel like Khabib with control, with his top game, cage control will be too much. It is not going to be an easy night at the office for Khabib, I don’t think he’s going to blow him out of the water but he’ll get the job done.’
JAN BLACHOWICZ – UFC light-heavyweight champion
‘Khabib is going to win this fight. Second or third round ground and pound or submission. This is what I see when I think about this fight.’
ROBERT WHITTAKER – No 1 ranked UFC middleweight
‘I don’t see Khabib losing. With someone of that calibre and level of skill, that overwhelming level, how do you beat him? You catch him. You can’t catch him because he’s got a chin made out of granite. Maybe the only way to do it is meet fire with fire and out-wrestle him but who is going to do that?’
Jan Blachowicz is confident Khabib will win and thinks it will not go into championship rounds
Robert Whittaker, who fights in the co-main event, cannot see Khabib losing the match-up
Former UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping thinks an upset might be on the cards
MICHAEL BISPING – Retired former UFC middleweight champion
‘Al Iaquinta was able to stop a lot of Khabib’s takedowns, now in the end he still won a decision but Justin will have a better chance of stopping the takedown and I think he’ll be more effective on the feet. Its going to be a great fight, very very close but we could have Khabib possibly getting beaten for the first time ever,’ he told MMA Global.’
LERONE MURPHY – UFC featherweight
‘I’m a big Khabib fan but I think Gaethje might have his number in this one you know, he’s on fire.’
TOM ASPINALL – UFC heavyweight
‘I think Gaethje is the man to beat him, his wrestling is unbelievable and the pace he sets is also unbelievable so I think Gaethje can beat him.’
AL IAQUINTA – No 9 ranked UFC lightweight
‘It’s a really interesting match-up, Gaethje doesn’t get held down and Khabib holds everybody down. On the feet, Gaethje is looking scary and on the mat Khabib is always looking scary. I think Khabib takes it’, he told Helen Yee Sports.
Daniel Cormier was Khabib’s team-mate and cannot envisage the Russian losing
DANIEL CORMIER – Retired former UFC light-heavyweight and heavyweight champion
‘I’ve seen Khabib train for championship fights since 2012, nobody worked harder, nobody was more committed. I just don’t know if anyone is going to beat him. I’m confident in believing that Khabib will retire undefeated,’ Cormier said among those who spoke to MMA Fighting.
ALEXANDER HERNANDEZ – UFC lightweight
‘I like Gaethje, going forward he is so much more ruthless. He’s been in deep dark waters before and Khabib hasn’t. Khabib can’t box to beat Gaethje but can maybe outwrestle Khabib.’
MICHELLE WATERSON – No 7 ranked UFC strawweight
‘I hope for it to go all five rounds, from a fan perspective to be able to see two masters would be great. I do feel it will be very technical. I think Gaethje will win.’
Michelle Waterson thinks an upset is on the cards in what will be a technical fight
TRACY CORTEZ – UFC bantamweight
‘I do think Gaethje has what it takes to give him that one loss, I don’t think Khabib could take him down, his wrestling is amazing. They’re both amazing wrestlers so they’re going to have to just stand up and go at it.’
MICHAEL CHANDLER – Former Bellator lightweight champion, UFC 254 standby
‘If you’re a betting man, I don’t think Gaethje is the guy to do it. I don’t say that to prop up my skillset, I just think I have the only skillset in the lightweight division that can beat Khabib and I’ve been saying it for a really long time.’
Michael Chandler made weight and is ready to step in if neither of the fighters make it
So what about the fighter’s themselves?
KHABIB NURMAGOMEDOV – UFC lightweight champion
‘If he defends my takedown once, I’ll try a second and third, 100 times. Of course I’m going to box with him, going to kick with him. It is going to be kickboxing and wrestling, like mix. My goal is make him tired, I’m going to make him tired, this is my goal. Maybe round number three or four my plan is to finish him.’
JUSTIN GAETHJE – UFC interim lightweight champion
‘I have to keep moving off angles, I can’t sit on the tracks, they call them the train tracks, I have to constantly be off the tracks and I possess some serious power. I have to touch him when he’s least expecting it in a spot where he will go to sleep.’
Special mention: Cristiano Ronaldo earlier weighed in with his verdict this week on Instagram live, declaring: ‘Of course, of course Khabib is going to win, my brother. Inshallah. Siuuuuu.’