Khabib, Justin Gaethje Make Weight for UFC 254 Title Fight

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistOctober 23, 2020

FILE - In this Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018 file photo Khabib Nurmagomedov speaks at a news conference after the UFC 229 mixed martial arts event in Las Vegas. UFC champion Khabib Nurmagomedov is probably the best-known Muslim athlete in Russia, and he's rapidly becoming a leading conservative voice at home. When a National Guardsman was killed while apparently trying to break up a fight outside an establishment variously described as a cafe and nightclub early Sunday morning, Nurmagomedov called for a crackdown on the local nightlife in his mostly-Muslim home region of Dagestan.(AP Photo/John Locher, File)
John Locher/Associated Press

Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje both made weight Friday ahead of their lightweight championship unification bout in the main event of UFC 254 on Saturday.

ESPN's Marc Raimondi reported Khabib weighed in naked and appeared to breathe a sigh of relief after the scale showed 155 pounds.

Nurmagomedov hasn't fought since September 2019, when he defeated Dustin Poirier by third-round submission. He was scheduled to face off with Tony Ferguson in April, but that bout was canceled because of coronavirus pandemic-related travel restrictions.

Ferguson instead battled Gaethje for the interim belt, and the latter emerged victorious by fifth-round knockout to set up Saturday's clash with Khabib.

The 31-year-old American said he will likely need to make it an "ugly" fight to score the upset.

"We are absolutely more focused on grappling and stopping the grappling," Gaethje told reporters Thursday. "Causing scrambles, getting up if I get taken down. But ultimately, it's causing damage in between those instances. I need to cause damage. I've got dense bones, and when I hit people, it tends to hurt 'em. So I need to kick him, I need to hit him and I need to make it ugly."

Khabib has reiterated throughout his preparations that he's going to keep trying to grapple, even if the former NCAA wrestler successfully defends his initial attempts.

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"I'm going to try wrestling with him," Nurmagomedov said. "If he's going to defend my takedown one time, I'm going to try second, third, going to try 100 times and, of course, I'm going to box with him, gonna kick with him, you know."

While Gaethje has rightfully spent a lot of time preparing for those grapple situations, the key may be whether he's able to mount enough offense. If he spends the entire fight in a defensive shell, Khabib will easily be able to outpoint him on the scorecards in a fight that fails to meet the hype.

So he must capitalize on counterattacking opportunities, especially in the first few rounds in an effort to start wearing down his Russian opponent, who's fighting for the first time in nearly 14 months.

The main card of UFC 254 is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday from UFC's Fight Island in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.