ABU DHABI – Coach Trevor Wittman thinks the threat of the unknown will play into his team’s hand at UFC 254.
Wrestling has been heavily discussed in the leadup to Saturday’s main event. While his fighter, Justin Gaethje, has not displayed his NCAA Division-I All-American wrestling often in his mixed martial arts career, Wittman thinks that will work to his advantage.
“I tailor my game plans throughout a career for a championship fight,” Wittman said at a pre-fight news conference Thursday in Abu Dhabi. “We work on fundamentals from the very beginning. One thing that I think we were able to do very well was keep our most important weapon hidden. With Justin Gaethje, he’s an extremely good wrestler and he’s got a very unique style in wrestling – and he hasn’t had to use it. It’s very hard to go and game plan against someone’s wrestling when they haven’t shown it.”
Wittman voiced his faith in wrestling as a tool for Gaethje, even against a fighter like Nurmagomedov, whose main point of attack is his takedowns.
“I always call wrestling the ‘get-out-of-jail card’ in the fight sport because wrestling, I believe, is the most dominant, position-controlling piece you can have,” Wittman said. “So I feel good about that. But Khabib is the best at what he does, so it’s not like I’m going, ‘Hey, we’re going to go in there and just outwrestle him.’ Again, that’s just a little bonus of what we have.”
Gaethje enters the fight as a moderate underdog across all major online sportsbooks. Nurmagomedov is a -378 favorite at BetMGM; the comeback on Gaethje is +275. But that’s what intrigues Wittman. He’s here for the test – and Nurmagomedov, the UFC lightweight champion, he sees as the ultimate challenge.
“It’s just an opportunity to go out there and face the best,” Wittman said. “I do believe Khabib is the best pound-for-pound. I’ve thought that for a long period of time. There are other fighters who put on exciting fights, and you can consider them the best pound-for-pound (because of) who they’ve faced and things like that – but it’s patterns. It’s who is the most consistent. When it comes to being consistent, that’s the key to being great. It’s consistency. Khabib is that.”
UFC 254 takes place Saturday at Flash Forum on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. The main card streams on pay-per-view after prelims on ESPN 2/ESPN+.
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