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Khabib vs Gaethje preview: If this fight reaches rounds four and five, Gaethje can spring another thrilling late knockout

October 22, 2020January 7th, 2022

AFTER a spectacular lightweight world title unification in boxing last weekend, fight fans’ attention turns back to the Octagon for more of the same on Saturday night, when UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov meets interim champion Justin Gaethje on Fight Island.

Underdog Teofimo Lopez sent shockwaves through boxing with his inspired performance to defeat pound-for-pound star Vasyl Lomachenko in Las Vegas, and while the matchup from Abu Dhabi this weekend offers tighter odds the action promises to be equally as enthralling.

Nurmagomedov is the most dominant champion in the UFC. His perfect 28-0 record is an anomaly in a sport which affords itself to so many routes to both victory and defeat.

The 32-year-old’s two-year reign as the champion features two typically one-sided defences. He began with a dominant fourth round submission victory over Conor McGregor in 2018, which transitioned him into one of the biggest stars in fight sports. Khabib is 31/20 to win by submission on Saturday.

Khabib then submitted top contender Dustin Poirier in Abu Dhabi last year, and was marching towards a long-awaited showdown with perennial fan favourite Tony Ferguson. But the Coronavirus pandemic scuppered all travel plans and instead Ferguson met countryman Gaethje at UFC 249 in Florida in May.

With the Interim UFC title on the line, Gaethje produced the performance of his career – which is some statement considering he’s aptly known as ‘The Highlight’. All eight of his UFC fights so far have been rewarded with a $50,000 Performance or Fight of the Night bonus – or both!

Undoubtedly, Khabib is a considerable step up for the Arizona native. But Gaethje’s All American College wrestling credentials may also provide a significantly raised level of grappling in the opposing corner to the Dagestani champion.

If Gaethje can defend Khabib’s takedowns and keep the fight standing, the momentum will certainly shift in favour of the American. But, avoiding Nurmagomedov’s single and double leg attacks is exactly what 28 previous opponents have failed to do, and remains the toughest challenge facing anybody, including Gaethje, at 155lb.

Stylistically, Khabib bases his fighting offence on attrition. He uses his striking primarily to get close enough to get his hands on his opponents before dragging them to the canvas and systematically beating them up and looking for chokes. His eight knockouts and 10 career submissions are offset by 10 largely one-sided points wins.

Gaethje is an exciting, brawling, finisher. His 22-2 record includes 19 knockouts and one submission set against just two points victories. Gaethje is 15/4 to win by KO, TKO, or DQ. He was knocked out twice back-to-back in 2017-18, but those losses have seen him evolve into a much more intelligent striker. He’s nowhere near as reckless with his chin as he once was.

Form suggests if the fight goes early then Khabib will have landed the takedowns and beaten Gaethje up on the canvas, like so many others. But if we hear the hooter for rounds four and five, then Gaethje’s defensive wrestling will truly have proven to be Nurmagomedov’s kryptonite and we could well be looking at a sensational late finish and another career highlight for the challenger. It’s 13/25 for there to be under 4.5 total rounds, and 7/5 for over 4.5 total rounds.

Boxing’s lightweight unification title fight lived up to all the hype last weekend. Now it’s up to the UFC’s two leading lightweights to deliver.


Bout odds: Khabib (3/10) vs Gaethe (27/10)
To go the distance: Yes (8/5), No (4/9)
Tips: Khabib to win by TKO, KO or DQ in Round Three (18/1), Khabib to win by Submission in Round Three (10/1), Khabib to win by decision (12/5), Gaethje to win by KO, TKO, or DQ in Round Four (25/1), Gaethje to win by KO, TKO, or DQ in Round Five (25/1


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