One of the most exciting fights of the year is almost upon us. Khabib Nurmagamedov will fight Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi. Many believe that ‘The Highlight’ is the man to beat the undefeated Russian lightweight champion. However, with a record of 28-0, it will take a brave man to bet against him.
Gaethje has recently improved his style. It is far more measured and technical than his days of swinging like a wildman. His performance against Tony Ferguson was masterful, but Khabib is on another level. Everybody knows what ‘The Eagle’ will do. But it is so difficult to stop him.
Meanwhile, Khabib’s head coach Javier Mendez believes that Gaethje is only the second most dangerous threat in the division. In sum, he still rates Conor McGregor as more dangerous than the American. He believes that ‘The Notorious’s’ striking is on another level, but admits that Gaethje could prove him wrong.
Gaethje has incredible power and his technical striking has developed substantially under Trevor Wittman. Despite this, Mendez says that Conor McGregor is still the number one threat in the division. However, he is wary of Gaethje’s threat if Khabib can’t take him down.
“Right now I rank him second, but he could very well be number one, easily,” Mendez said of Gaethje in a recent interview with Submission Radio. “I rank him second behind Conor but I could be wrong on that. He could be more dangerous than Conor. We’ll see. If we’re not able to take him to the ground, we’re gonna have a fight on our hands.
I’m anticipating we’re gonna have a fight on our hands because if I don’t anticipate that and it does happen, we’re gonna be caught not thinking properly. So I’m assuming we can’t take him down and we have to stand with him. That’s, in my mind, what I’m assuming. I’m hoping that’s not the case. I’m hoping we can take him down but we have to be prepared for times when we can’t.”
In fact, Mendez says that McGregor is the best striker in the history of the division. This is a bold claim considering that the Irishman has only fought twice in the UFC at 155lbs. Furthermore, the likes of Edson Barboza might disagree with that assessment. Mendez said:
“Conor’s just the best striker ever in the lightweight division, I think. Gaethje, with his wrestling, he creates a big problem. He really does. His power and his guts, the guy is coming to fight. He’s not gonna run from you, he’s coming to you, and if you’re not fighting him, you’re not beating him. You have to fight him and we’re prepared for that.”
Meanwhile, Mendez respects Gaethje’s wrestling experience. He also believes that he might have the best takedown defense on the entire roster. But he warned the American that pure wrestling and MMA wrestling are two different things. He said:
“From a wrestling standpoint, I’m sure it’s not Division- level at the present time, but from an MMA standpoint I’m sure it’s as best as it can be,” he said. “He may very well have the best takedown defense out of anybody because he has that wrestling background. But remember, this is MMA, so there’s a lot of variables to takedowns… If it was a pure wrestling match, I don’t know how we’d fare but this isn’t wrestling. This is MMA and there’s a lot of things you can do in MMA that you can’t do in wrestling.”