Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Justin Gaethje has shown a lot of different skills and attributes during his fighting career.
He’s definitely one of the most exciting athletes to ever compete in MMA. He combines stopping power on the feet with a tenacious, aggressive style that has been nearly impossible to stop. Gaethje is the master of inflicting damage on his opponents, and even considering the two fights he’s lost, neither Eddie Alvarez or Dustin Poirier walked away anywhere near unscathed after facing him.
Despite all that, Gaethje’s head coach Trevor Wittman says that the interim champion’s best attribute when going against a human wrecking machine like Khabib Nurmagomedov hasn’t even been seen during one of his fights yet.
“I tailor my game plans throughout a career for a championship fight,” Wittman explained on Thursday during UFC 254 media day. “We work on fundamentals from the beginning. One thing that I think that we were able to do very well was keep our most important weapon hidden and with Justin Gaethje, he’s a extremely good wrestler and he’s got a very unique style in wrestling.
“He hasn’t had to use it. Again, it’s very hard to go and game plan against someone’s wrestling when they haven’t showed it.”
In the lead up to the fight against Nurmagomedov a lot has been said about Gaethje’s past wrestling experience and how that matches up against the undefeated Russian.
Gaethje was an NCAA Division I All-American wrestler at the University of Northern Colorado during his junior year of college. He was best known for his defensive abilities, which included staying off the ground for any significant amount of time while scrambling out of bad positions.
He competed in wrestling until the day came to make the transition to fighting but Gaethje has never forgotten the foundation he built on those mats.
While videos exist of Gaethje wrestling in college, he’s rarely ever had to turn to those skills during his fight career, which makes his style of grappling now built for MMA something that Nurmagomedov has never seen before.
“I always call wrestling the get out of jail card in the fight sport,” Wittman explained. “Because I believe wrestling is the most dominant position controlling piece you can have.”
Obviously, Gaethje has practiced his wrestling, countering Nurmagomedov’s takedowns and how to get up off the ground if the fight does hit the floor.
Wittman absolutely believes in Gaethje’s ability to go takedown for takedown against Nurmagomedov, who will almost certainly attempt to bring this fight to the ground early and often when they clash on Saturday at UFC 254.
That said, Wittman isn’t underestimating Nurmagomedov or his suffocating style that has sent 28 opponents home with a loss when facing him.
“I feel good about [Justin’s wrestling] but Khabib is the best at what he does,” Wittman said. “It’s not like I’m going ‘we’re going to go out there and out wrestle him.’ Again, that’s just a little bonus of what we have. It’s an opportunity to go out there and face the best and I do believe Khabib, I believe he’s the best pound-for-pound [fighter]. I’ve thought that for a long period of time. I mean there’s other fighters that put on exciting fights and you can consider them best pound-for-pound and who they’ve faced and things like that.
“But it’s patterns. Who’s the most consistent? When it comes to being consistent, that’s the key to being great. It’s consistency. Khabib is that.”