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Khabib Nurmagomedov: Fight IQ, cardio discrepancy will lead finish of Justin Gaethje

Khabib Nurmagomedov sees two main advantages he has over UFC 254 opponent Justin Gaethje that will prove to be the X factors en route to victory.

At a virtual UFC 254 pre-fight news conference Thursday, the UFC lightweight champion opened up on the game plan he is hoping to establish against Gaethje and where he sees himself having the biggest advantages.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a chess match, you know?” Nurmagomedov said. “I think my fight IQ is much better than Justin Gaethje’s. He’s just a tough guy. He likes fighting. He likes blood, you know? He’s like a real warrior. But when we talk about fighting IQ, I think my fighting IQ is much better than his, you know?”

Nurmagomedov, 32, attributed much of Gaethje’s MMA-specific intellect to on-the-spot instructions he receives from his longtime coach, Trevor Wittman. Nurmagomedov praised Wittman, bringing up his corner work in Gaethje’s UFC 249 win against Tony Ferguson.

“I think Justin, he has a very good coach – just my opinion,” Nurmagomedov said. “He has a great coach. If you can watch his last fight with Tony Ferguson, having cornered him, (Wittman) gave him very good advice. I think he has a very good and very great coach. Of course, Justin can fight. He can go deep. He has heart. But if you’re talking about fighting IQ, I think I have much better than him.”

Besides fight-centric intelligence, Nurmagomedov also plans to top Gaethje in the cardio department. Both fighters have been known to find success later in fights, but Nurmagomedov plans to overbear Gaethje so much he struggles when and if the fight reaches that point.

“I’m going to try wrestling with him,” Nurmagomedov said. “If he’s going to defend my takedown one time, I’m going to try second, third, (all the way to) 100 times. Of course, I’m going to box with him and kick with him. It’s going to be kickboxing and wrestling – like, mixed. My goal is to make him tired. I’m going to make him tired. This is my goal. Maybe in Round No. 3 or Round No. 4, my plan is (to) finish him.”

Since defeating Al Iaquinta to fill the vacant championship at UFC 223 in April 2018, Nurmagomedov has successfully defended his title twice. In October 2018 at UFC 229, Nurmagomedov submitted rival Conor McGregor in Round 4. At UFC 242 in September 2019, Nurmagomedov picked up another submission victory against Dustin Poirier in Round 3.

Nurmagomedov was scheduled to fight Ferguson at UFC 249 in April, but was forced to withdraw after the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak caused travel issues. The event was postponed to May and Gaethje stepped in to defeat Ferguson by fifth-round TKO.

UFC 254 takes place Oct. 24 at Flash Forum on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. The main card streams on ESPN+ pay-per-view after prelims on ESPN/ESPN+.

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