Justin Gaethje on Khabib Fight at UFC 254: Gonna Go Out There and Break His Face

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistOctober 16, 2020

Justin Gaethje is seen before his mixed martial arts bout at UFC Fight Night, Saturday, March 30, 2019, in Philadelphia. Gaethje won via first round TKO. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)
Gregory Payan/Associated Press

Justin Gaethje said fighting Khabib Nurmagomedov in the main event of UFC 254 is a "life-changing" opportunity he doesn't plan to let slip away.

Gaethje, the interim UFC lightweight champion, told TMZ Sports in an interview released Friday he's going to come out aggressive in the unification bout.

"I'm gonna go out there and I'm gonna try and break his face, I promise you," he said.

Gaethje has been the interim champ since May when he knocked out Tony Ferguson in the fifth round to earn Performance of the Night honors. The undefeated Nurmagomedov, who returns to the Octagon for the first time since September 2019, represents a different level of challenge, though.

Khabib stands at 28-0 heading into next Saturday's fight. He won the vacant lightweight title over Al Iaquinta in April 2018 and has since defended it in wins over Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier.

"Right now, this man is gonna be very hard to beat," Gaethje told TMZ. "With the passing of his father—for people like us, that is a driving, motivating factor. He's going to be 100 percent motivated, but I do believe ... that I can beat him."

He also explained that while beating the Russian superstar would open up numerous avenues and potentially fights, including a possible big-money showdown with McGregor, he's not looking ahead.

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"When I get this belt, the target will be on my back and I will have no need to call anybody out," Gaethje said. "Honestly, it wouldn't matter who I fought after Khabib. This will cement my legacy, and that's the only thing I'm here for."

It won't be easy. Nurmagomedov is a pretty sizable favorite (-286) with just over a week until the fight with Gaethje (+225), per DraftKings Sportsbook.

Gaethje has been terrific since back-to-back losses to Poirier and Eddie Alvarez with three straight first-round knockouts prior to the triumph over Ferguson.

If he can harness that power against the more well-rounded Khabib, one punch could change the entire fight.