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Justin Gaethje says confidence, power, coaching are factors to beat Khabib Nurmagomedov

Without question, Justin Gaethje has been involved in some big fights over an MMA career spanning nearly 10 years.

And without question, if you ask him, his next one will be the biggest of them all. Gaethje (22-2 MMA, 5-2 UFC), the UFC’s interim lightweight champion, will take a shot at becoming the undisputed champ when he meets the unbeaten Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0 MMA, 12-0 UFC). Their UFC 254 main event title unifier takes place Oct. 24 at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.

And because no one has been able to hand Nurmagomedov a loss yet – and it could be argued no one really has come close – Gaethje seems to know the level of challenge in front of him. But he’s also taken stock of what’s working in his favor.

“It’s the biggest fight of my life – absolutely. There’s no doubt about it,” Gaethje told MMA Junkie during a Thursday UFC 254 conference call with media members. “I’m not going to let outside influences influence the way I need to think or act or prepare. It’s really just staying true to my belief, which is be better than yesterday, (and) make better choices than yesterday. I’ve been doing that for eight weeks, and I’ve got three and a half more. I’ll be ready as I possibly can be.”

Of Gaethje’s 22 career wins, 20 have been by knockout. He hasn’t heard a peep from the judges in the way of scorecards since a November 2014 decision win over Melvin Guillard when he was WSOF’s lightweight champion – a split call that could be argued was the lone off-night of his MMA career.

After back-to-back knockout losses to Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier in his second and third UFC fights, he has four straight knockout wins over James Vick, Edson Barboza, Donald Cerrone and Tony Ferguson, the latter of which earned him the interim belt.

In seven UFC fights, he has nine $50,000 performance bonuses, including two times the doubled up. He’s been making more than a comfortable living from bonuses alone in a little more than three years in the organization. If he wasn’t confident already, the stats could help get him there.

And that confidence is what he thinks might be a factor when he takes on Nurmagomedov later this month.

“My confidence is probably my biggest factor right now, paired with the power that I possess, paired with the coach that I have. That’s a dangerous combination,” Gaethje said. “I don’t care if I win or lose, at the end of the day, as long as I make my family happy, as long as I’m proud of my performance, then it doesn’t matter. That’s what makes me most dangerous. I don’t know if he’s ever fought someone like that – he probably has.

“And another factor is a lot of hard work, a lot of skill and a little bit of luck in this game. Anybody can go to sleep. He’s a fool if he doesn’t think he can go to sleep.”

Nurmagomedov currently is between a -270 and -300 favorite at online sports books. The comeback on Gaethje is in the +215-235 range. In Gaethje’s four-fight winning streak, he was an underdog for three of them.

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