Gaethje vows to put Khabib ‘in danger’ in UFC 254 title bout

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UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov has beaten every man that has stepped into a ring or Octagon with him, compiling an unblemished 28-0 MMA record by turning away different styles and challengers.

On Saturday, in the main event of UFC 254, interim lightweight champion Justin Gaethje believes he will bring something that none of the other felled fighters that went before him could.

“Danger, I’m dangerous, he’ll be in danger for 25 minutes,” Gaethje told TSN’s Aaron Bronsteter. “I ain’t going out like no punk either, that’s all there is to it. I’m so prepared for this fight, I’ve been preparing for a long time. I’m excited to test this man, he thinks he’s not human, I’m going to show him he’s human.”
Gaethje is also not impressed with the fighters Nurmagomedov has beaten to capture and retain his UFC belt. Giving props to the champion’s most recent victory, a common opponent, but discounting the manner in which he captured the belt in the first place at UFC 223.

“I think Dustin’s (Poirier) the cream of the crop, but he won his belt from Al. Al Iaquinta. That’s not for a title, that was just a circumstance where a title was on the line,” said Gaethje. “Al Iaquinta is not world class, not in the slightest, so that doesn’t count. Poirier? I’d be a fool to say bad things about him when [he] whooped my ass, so he’s a formidable challenge, but again, that guy didn’t grow up wrestling, he didn’t wrestle his whole life.”

“I’m obviously going to present a different kind of danger than he’s ever faced as I have knocked out, 18 or 19 of the 22 people that I’ve beat, nobody’s done that and nobody presents the danger that I present.”

After capturing the interim title with a victory over Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 in May, Gaethje, according to his manager, turned down a chance to fight Conor McGregor for big money in July, instead keeping his focus on capturing the undisputed lightweight title.

“You gamble on yourself,” said Gaethje. “When I beat Khabib, that fight’s there. The legacy that I’m trying to create goes through Khabib, it’s doesn’t go through Conor.”

So what is the legacy that the 31-year-old is trying to create in MMA?

“Ultimately it will be that you can never give up on yourself,” said Gaethje. “I’m sure there was so many people that counted me out after I took those two losses. I faced adversity and I’ve come back and proven that a failure is not the definition of yourself. How you pick yourself up and how you continue is what I’m trying to instill into myself and into other people.”

The two losses were to Eddie Alvarez in December of 2017 and Dustin Poirier in April of 2018, the only setbacks of Gaethje’s stellar career. He is now riding a four-fight winning streak since that last defeat over two years ago and credits coach Trevor Wittman and a better focus on staying in the moment in fights.

“I’ll never be able to pinpoint it honestly, because it wasn’t like we sat down and had a conversation,” said Gaethje. “It’s kind of just, I’m always around (Trevor Wittman), we work together, we own Onx Sports together. Internally it was just, in my mind I was winning those fights until they punched me or hit me with that knee at the right time. It was because I became so lackadaisical, so comfortable in that setting and I always have to remember how dangerous it is. No matter how much I love it, it’s still danger and I need to protect myself from myself in those circumstances, because I love that thrill so much.”

“At this level you cannot make mistakes, especially in world championship fights. One mistake will cost you everything, so I have to go be perfect. That’s been my focus since I took those two losses honestly, it was don’t make mistakes.”

Fighting mistake free might seem like a lofty goal, but Gaethje believes when the fight starts on Saturday, he’s ready to do exactly that and be the man to finally knock Nurmagomedov from the ranks of the unbeaten.

“It’s not that hard, you are in control of everything,” said Gaethje. “You control your thoughts, your emotions, your actions at all times. I’ve had 12 weeks, it’s thousands and thousands of minutes and I only have to be perfect for 25 minutes. I haven’t been perfect in every single minute I’ve been preparing for this fight, but I have been preparing to be perfect for 25 minutes and that’s what I’m here for.”

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