According to Khabib Nurmagomedov, there’s a major difference between Dagestani wrestling and American wrestling.
The debate has taken on added significance as Nurmagomedov prepares to defend his undisputed lightweight crown against interim king Justin Gaethje in the UFC 254 main event on Saturday. Gaethje has been known as a dangerous striker throughout his MMA career, but those skills are backed by a wrestling pedigree that saw him earn NCAA All-American honors at the University of Northern Colorado.
“I didn’t watch any tape on Kahbib. I’ve watched his fights thoughout his career because I’m a huge fan of MMA. But I didn’t go back when I got him as an opponent to analyze him,” Gaethje said at UFC 254 press conference on Wednesday. “I’ve always focused on being my best self. He hasn’t fought somebody who has wrestled or grappled as long as he has. That is me, I have.
“Everyone says they’re ready [for Nurmagomedov]. I will not allow him to put me on the fence. If I do, I’m screwed. My plan is if he wants to grapple, let’s grapple in the middle. I cause damage. I have dense bones. I’m gonna kick his legs. That’s where it’s gonna start and I move on from there.”
Still, Nurmagomedov insists that his brand of grappling is a different than that of Gaethje or American Kickboxing Academy training partner Daniel Cormier, who didn’t utilize his wrestling often during a heavyweight trilogy against Stipe Miocic.
“People ask me what is the difference between Dagestan wrestling and American wrestling. This is a good question. I think it’s a big difference,” Nurmagomedov said. “I know [Gaethje] knows how to wrestle. We’re [Dagestani wrestlers] about wrestling 25 minutes.
“I told ‘DC’ today: When you fight with Stipe Moicic last time you grabbed his leg one time and you take him down and he get up very quickly and that’s it and you finish….Between me and ‘DC’ is big difference. If I’m gonna try to take him down once, I’m gonna go all night. This is big difference between U.S. wrestling and Dagestan wrestling.”
Nurmagomedov has an approach set in his mind, and it’s not something from which he plans to stray when faced with the offensive arsenal of his opponent. What’s that approach include? Lots and lots of wrestling.
“I think he has dynamite on his hands, very good kicks. They [are] all good when they stand up,” Nurmagomedov said. “But when I grab them it change a little bit. I think more than Dustin and Conor, he know how to wrestle. It’s gonna be a little bit hard, but I prepare myself to try to take him down 100 times. It’s gonna be very interesting Saturday night.”
Once he begins to wear on Gaethje, Nurmagomedov is confident his adversary won’t be as dangerous as the fight progresses.
“He always be ready fast. First round he’s very dangerous,” Nurmagomedov said. “ I think him and Conor are two most dangerous guys in the first round. But if you talk about second round, third round, they become regular fighters.”
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