Justin Gaethje will be going up against probably the strongest fighter in the lightweight division in Khabib Nurmagomedov. At least according to Al Iaquinta.
Gaethje will look to become the first fighter to defeat Nurmagomedov when he faces him in a lightweight title unification clash in the UFC 254 headliner on Saturday.
The key for Gaethje, as it always has been for other opponents, is to avoid going up against the fence and having Nurmagomedov grab a hold of him. So far, that has been easier said than done for just about every fighter who has gone up against the current lightweight king.
So what exactly makes “The Eagle” so effective in what he does that nobody is able to stop him? Iaquinta — who fought Nurmagomedov to a unanimous decision defeat in their title fight two years ago — is well-equipped to answer that.
“I’ve felt guys that are as strong as him, use their weight. But at 155, I think he’s probably the strongest guy,” Iaquinta told Ariel Helwani in a recent interview. “He’s definitely one of the strongest guys. His game is very different than anybody that I went with — trips against the cage, I would feel safe in certain positions but then he’d come with a trip where I thought he would have done something else.
“He’s got his game down to a tee and he’s great at getting people, kind of like filtering whatever’s going on into his game where he can get you against the cage. Even when you’re so aware or prepared for a takedown, that’s when he starts boxing and using his hands, like against Conor [McGregor], how he hit with him that shot, that overhand.”
In addition, Iaquinta adds that Nurmagomedov is a master of distributing his weight when he’s on top of his opponent — something that leads to them tiring and eventually breaking. That and the fact that he is also just relentless.
“Just mixing it up. He shot a low single on me and kind of just held on to my ankle and that wasn’t a shot that I was prepared for,” Iaquinta added. “… Maybe if he takes a not traditionally great shot, he’ll get in and because he’s so strong, he’s able to finish [it]. His finishing techniques are incredible, his strength is incredible.
“… He knows how to use his strength. … I kind of relate to when I roll with Matt Serra. Matt is a big guy, what 200 plus pounds, but when he’s on top of you, he feels like 10,000 pounds. Not because he’s a big guy but because of how compact he is and where he’s using his weight. He knows exactly how to distribute his weight in the right place at the right time to get the reaction that he wants to advance his position and I think Khabib is a master at that. And he’s relentless — even when you get up, he’s going right back. He’s not really scared to get tired in those grappling situations so he’ll keep the pressure on and keep pushing until he gets what he wants.”
If it wasn’t obvious enough, Gaethje certainly has his hands full this weekend.
You can watch the full interview below: