Dana White: If Khabib Nurmagomedov beats Justin Gaethje, ‘he’s the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world’

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Khabib Nurmagomedov’s august resume is rightly in the spotlight at UFC 254.

He’s 28-0 as a professional fighter with 12 straight wins in the UFC including three consecutive wins in title fights. Nurmagomedov has only lost one round during his entire MMA career — the third round in his showdown with Conor McGregor — and he finished the fight with a rear-naked choke in the fourth.

Nurmagomedov is also one more win away from tying the all-time record for title defenses in the UFC lightweight division.

This weekend at UFC 254, Nurmagomedov squares off against Justin Gaethje, who’s been a human highlight reel ever since he arrived in the promotion. Gaethje has racked up nine post fight bonuses in just seven fights.

He also stopped Tony Ferguson’s 12-fight winning streak in his previous performance, also claiming the UFC interim lightweight title.

Considering the accolades Nurmagomedov has already accomplished and Gaethje’s eye-popping performances, UFC President Dana White believes the stakes for this fight are even higher when it comes to the undefeated Russian’s legacy.

“Khabib is looking down the barrel of not only the greatest to ever do it in this division, but listen, I think if he beats Justin on Saturday, he’s the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world and he’s on his way to GOAT status,” White said during the UFC 254 pre-fight press conference.

The mythical pound-for-pound list is purely subjective with no real criteria to determine rankings. But White feels like Nurmagomedov’s accomplishments speak for themselves.

In the past, the UFC figurehead has routinely referred to former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones as the top fighter in the sport regardless of weight class. But now, Nurmagomedov seems to be knocking on the door to take that title away from him.

“You know what I think of Jon Jones and we always talk about what Jon’s accomplished in his career,” White explained. “Look at how many fights this guy has and he’s still undefeated, and this is a nasty, nasty weight division.”

In addition to his status as one of the best fighters in the sport, Nurmagomedov has also become one of the UFC’s biggest draws over the past few years.

He already participated in the highest selling pay-per-view in UFC history with his 2018 fight against Conor McGregor. White has already teased that the upcoming card featuring Nurmagomedov vs. Gaethje is trending into record-breaking territory.

Add to that, the UFC president says every possible metric the promotion can measure shows Nurmagomedov turning into a true global superstar.

“He’s one of the biggest stars in the sport,” White said. “Khabib’s videos have generated 222 million views. His content that features him, over 100 million video views just this year alone, just on Facebook. He’s broken records on Instagram. I could just rattle off numbers all day. He’s by far the No. 1 most played character in the video game globally. By a long shot.

“The numbers just go on and on. I could go on for days. The kid’s broken a lot of records.”

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