UFC 254 – Cormier: Gaethje Is Going To Be Khabib’s Toughest Opponent

It has been over a year since the last time we saw undefeated UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov compete inside the Octagon, when he scored a third round finish over Dustin Poirier at UFC 242. In that time, a new challenger has emerged.

His Toughest Opponent Yet

Justin Gaethje jumped at the opportunity to step in for Khabib and save the UFC 249 card, to face Ferguson on short notice earlier this year. The risk would prove to pay off for ‘The Highlight’ as he finished ‘El Cucuy’ in fifth round, earning an interim title in the process.

Come October 24th at UFC 254, Gaethje will get the opportunity to become the first man to defeat the Khabib. Speaking to Yahoo Sports, Daniel Cormier stressed how important it was for his close friend and training partner to take the 31-year-old seriously.

“I think he’s going to fight his toughest opponent,” Cormier admitted. “I think the vast majority of the world feels as though this is the toughest guy for him at 155 [pounds]. I think he’ll be okay. His ability to train and prepare for this and continue to work toward the goal that him and his father had together will allow for him to maybe come to terms with everything that’s happening around him.”

Mental Challenges

While Cormier believes Gaethje might present a lot of different challenges that Khabib may not be used to, the biggest challenge might be to go into the fight without his father.

The combat sport world lost a true pioneer when the undefeated fighter’s father Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, lost his battle with the COVID-19 virus. The death even caused many to believe the Russian may never compete again. However, Khabib has chosen to continue to chase the legacy his father had planned for him. A move Cormier thinks might be best for him.

“Sometimes you need distraction and you need motivation in different forms,” Cormier said. “I think Khabib will use [his father’s death] as motivation. He’s a professional. He’s a pro’s pro and he’s going to prepare himself to the best of his ability.

“Javier Mendez (American Kickboxing Academy head coach) is gonna corner me and do my fight and then, a month later, he’s going to head out to Russia and spend the last two months of Khabib’s training camp with him. The team will prepare him to the best of his ability, but he’ll also be around his family who loves him, and now he’ll see Javier from here, another familiar face who will help him to get through a difficult time as he prepares to defend his title again.”

Training Complications

Due to the coronavirus complications with travelling and a baby due in October, Cormier will not be able to go to Dagestan to help Khabib in camp. Because no fans are currently allowed to the fights, ‘DC’ may not even be in the arena on fight night. Although the option always presents himself to cover the event as an announcer, the 41-year-old does not like announcing fights for his friend.

“I usually don’t call Khabib’s fights because it’s too difficult,” Cormier said. “I’m too invested in him as a friend but when he steps into the Octagon, I would love to be in the arena in some form or fashion, to support my friend. I think that’s very important. He’s our champion. He’s AKA’s only champion right now and we hold him high and want to support him as much as we can.”

Who do you see winning the fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje?

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