UFC analyst Dan Hardy is eager to see how the third round between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje plays out.
The two collide Saturday in a lightweight title unification clash that will headline UFC 254. For Gaethje, he will have to do what no other fighter has done and that’s inflict defeat on Nurmagomedov.
The game plan will naturally be avoiding Nurmagomedov’s takedowns as “The Highlight” plans on ending the fight with a knockout. However, that’s easier said than done and if Nurmagomedov has his way early on, Hardy wants to see what transpires in the third round.
“If Khabib gets his way for the first two rounds and he’s able to take Gaethje down and maul him and beat him up, I certainly know there’s damage on Gaethje’s face from his previous wars before he started fighting a bit smarter, but as far as his conditioning goes, that’s the thing that’s in question, and I don’t know,” Hardy told Submission Radio. “But my feeling is, if Khabib kind of has his way with him for the first two rounds, that third round, although Gaethje is still very dangerous and does carries power into the later rounds, he’s not gonna be as efficient and as sharp as he was in the first two, which may make make his striking game a little bit easier to deal with.
“There’s no doubt there’s gonna be a high volume though, and I think as soon as Gaethje starts defending takedowns, that’s when he starts throwing his low kicks in. But it’s always the threat of the takedown from Khabib. You go back to the [Conor] McGregor fight, it’s that dip, the threat of the takedown coming which set up the right hand that dropped him.”
That said, Hardy acknowledges that Gaethje is different from most fighters and could capitalize in the third round if he is able to defend takedown attempts from Nurmagomedov.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility either as the likes of Al Iaquinta and McGregor had success in the middle rounds of their title fights with “The Eagle.”
“If Gaethje spends two rounds on the ground already, any feint low from Khabib might take him out of his striking game as well. But we know Gaethje is a wild man,” Hardy added. “If he defends two takedowns in the third round, I think he’s going to realize that’s his opportunity, and I think as long as he doesn’t come into the fight feeling like he’s gonna dominate — which, I don’t think anybody does when they face Khabib — I think his mentality will help him to keep pushing forward.
“It’s the third round that’s so exciting for me. Cause like you said, that’s when you’ve seen Khabib’s takedowns get stuffed. Against McGregor, against Al Iaquinta. That’s the question for me. What happens when we have somebody defending these takedowns that can then start marching forward and throwing chopping low kicks and heavy hands?”
Luckily, we won’t have to wait long to see that possibility.