Khabib Nurmagomedov: Big difference between Dagestani, American wrestling

ABU DHABI – UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov sees staunch differences between Dagestani and American wrestling styles.

Nurmagomedov (28-0 MMA, 12-0 UFC) plans on displaying the contrast Saturday at UFC 254 when he takes on former NCAA Division I All American wrestler Justin Gaethje at Flash Forum on Yas Island.

“I think it’s a big difference,” Nurmagomedov said at a pre-fight news conference Wednesday. “I know he knows how to wrestle. Worry about wrestling 25 minutes. I told (Daniel Cormier) today, ‘When you fight with Stipe Miocic last time, you grabbed his leg one time, and you take him down. He got up very quickly, and you’re finished.’ All other minutes (went) standup. Between me and DC is a big difference.”

Relentlessness is the biggest difference, Nurmagomedov outlined. While he thinks Gaethje (22-2 MMA, 5-2 UFC) has better wrestling than his previous two opponents, Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor, Nurmagomedov anticipates scoring takedowns again and again.

“If I’m going to try to take him down once and he defends, I’m going to go all night. I’m going to go all night,” Nurmagomedov said. “This is the big difference between U.S. wrestling and Dagestan wrestling. … They all good when they stand up, but when I grab them, it changes a little bit. I think more than Dustin and Conor and other guys, he know to wrestle. It’s going to be a little bit hard. I prepared myself to try to take him down 100 times. It’s going to be interesting Saturday night.”

Nurmagomedov, 32, will seek his third successful UFC lightweight title defense against Gaethje. After winning the vacant belt against Al Iaquinta at UFC 223 in April 2018, Nurmagomedov submitted rival McGregor at UFC 229 in October 2018. In September 2019, Nurmagomedov submitted Poirier at UFC 242.

Since dropping two of his first three UFC appearances, Gaethje has stormed up the 155-pound divisional ladder with four straight TKO victories. After finishing James Vick, Edson Barboza, and Donald Cerrone, Gaethje earned a title shot with a fifth-round TKO of Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 in May.

UFC 254 takes place Saturday at Flash Forum. The main card streams on pay-per-view after prelims on ESPN 2/ESPN+.

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