Khabib Nurmagomedov takes on Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 on Saturday in a mouth-watering clash as he lays his lightweight championship and unbeaten record on the line.

Ahead of the fight, we take a look back at Khabib’s career to date.

Khabib Nurmagomedov profile

After amassing a perfect 16-0 record in the local organisation across his native Russia and Ukraine, Khabib Nurmagomedov caught the attention of the UFC with his brutal and overpowering style. Despite some contract issues delaying the Eagle’s landing in the UFC, once he did spread his wings, he soared through the lightweight division in a way never seen before.

Keen to shake the tag of being a grappler in his early days, it wasn’t until perhaps his fourth fight of his UFC career that we saw the real Khabib. In his fight against Abel Trujillo in January 2013, he took down his opponent a record 21 times over the three rounds and showed his unfathomable strength for a man fighting at 155lbs. In fact, American Kickboxing Academy team-mate and former UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, who has wrestled him for years, often remarks publically that he is strongest person he has ever grappled with.

With his reputation on the rise, Khabib knew he needed a few big names to cement his place as a threat in the division. First, he bested former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos over three rounds, taking him down at will through the fight and employing his now famous ground and pound. After trying to set up a fight with fellow prospect Tony Ferguson – on multiple occasions – he won a forgettable catchweight bout against stand-in Darrell Horcher.

Despite Dana White confirming Khabib would face lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez in his next fight, Alvarez would instead fight his future advisory and the rising star of the sport Conor McGregor for the title. McGregor would win the belt, before going on a hiatus from MMA, and Khabib was forced to fight Michael Johnson on the undercard that night. A very displeased Nurmagomedov dismantled Johnson and was even shouting at White during the fight, demanding his title match.

The picture by this point was clear, few would be able to prevent him from taking them down, and even fewer would be able to out grapple him once he did. Other fighters knew it too and had been accused of ‘ducking’ the Russian. The scenario surrounding his title fight did nothing to quell those rumours either.

Although McGregor was technically champion, but currently out of action, the UFC announced Khabib would fight Ferguson for the belt, before Ferguson was forced to pull out once again. Featherweight champion Max Holloway was lined up as a replacement but was forced to withdraw under medical advice just a day before the bout. Anthony Pettis was then selected as a last-minute replacement, but weighed in 0.2 pounds over the 155lb weight limit and despite being given time to shed the extra weight, did not weigh in again.

Al Iaquinta then stepped in to fight Khabib, with the New York State Athletic Commission refusing to honour Iaqunita as champion in the case that he won as he had weighed in above the championship limit too. Nothing could stop Khabib though, has he dominated to fight both on the feet and on the ground to take a unanimous decision and win the UFC lightweight championship.

Biggest fights

Khabib Nurmagomedov v Conor McGregor – UFC 229

A few incidents as well as some of McGregor’s notorious trash talk had escalated this fight to astronomical levels of anticipation. To this day, 2018’s UFC 229 remains the UFC’s biggest selling PPV and is arguably the most significant event in the promotion’s history.

It was a match-up that really had everything – an unflappable yet respectful champion who had decimated everything in his wake and the outspoken mercurial carrying the sport to new heights. The fight itself was not as well-matched though, with Khabib dominating from start to finish.

Where many had argued in the build-up that McGregor would be able to impose his striking ability in the early rounds, Khabib simply refused to allow it. He smothered his opponent, draining his energy with his strength and landing powerful shots from the top position. Therefore, even when McGregor got the opportunity to stand and trade with the champion, he was bested there too, with Khabib famously dropping him with a perfectly timed right hand in the second round.

After more brutal ground and pound, for which McGregor simply had no answer, Khabib managed to take his back late in the fourth round and locked in a neck crank that forced the Irishman to submit. While what happened after will go down as one of the most infamous moments in UFC history, the bout itself was dominated by Khabib, who was duly catapulted into the global spotlight.

Khabib Nurmagomedov v Edson Barboza – UFC 219

This was the bout that really showed Khabib’s undeniable championship ability in 2017. Although Edson Barboza had lost two of his last five coming into his meeting with the Russian, he was another opponent whose striking was supposed to give Nurmagomedov a problem. However, once again Khabib proved simply too good.

He had Barboza on the back foot from the early exchanges, walking the Brazilian down and getting within range to land big shots. Only when Barboza was beginning to run out of striking range did Nurmagomedov look for the take down. On the ground, he was simply Khabib, locking his opponent’s legs and arms to leave him unable to defend himself from the brutal elbows and punches.

He repeated this process flawlessly for three rounds and took a well-deserved unanimous decision, after landing more than three times as many significant strikes than Barboza. The championship awaited.

Khabib Nurmagomedov v Dustin Poirier – UFC 242

Although the hype surrounding this one in 2019 may not have been quite the same as the McGregor fight, Dustin ‘the Diamond’ Poirier was no less of a threat to Khabib’s dominance of the lightweight division. Coming off a six-fight win streak that included Holloway, Gaethje and Pettis, Poirier had become one of the most well-rounded and impressive fighters in the UFC.

Khabib took him down almost immediately in round one, and nearly had a rear-naked choke secured before opting for more ground and pound. He also had Poirier in trouble in round two, with the fight seconds away from being stopped when the bell came.

Poirier’s last stand came as he seemed to have Khabib in a guillotine choke in round three, and was squeezing hard. For a brief moment it looked as though the champion might be in trouble as he squirmed to create space to breathe, but he duly slipped out and instantly recommenced the assault. Just seconds later, he had Poirier in a rear-naked once again, this time submitting him for the win to retain his lightweight crown for a second time.

Khabib’s Next Fight

Khabib Nurmagomedov v Justin Gaethje – UFC 254

The next person to try and steal Khabib’s crown will be ‘the Highlight’, Justin Gaethje, who is fresh off the biggest and most impressive win of his MMA career to date after beating Ferguson at UFC 249 in May.  The two will face off at UFC 254 on Saturday at Fight Island, Abu Dhabi.

Gaethje is a former NCAA Division 1 All-American wrestler, and will feel confident he is capable of at least preventing Khabib from getting him on his back. He rarely looks for takedowns himself though, and has legitimate knockout power. He seems to improve with every trip to the octagon, and was flawless in his win over Ferguson, putting on a technical striking clinic. He’s currently 13/5 to become lightweight champion on Saturday night.

Khabib will look to dominant in his usual fashion, and will want to test Gaethje’s takedown defence early. He will also likely want to prove he can match his opponent in the stand-up, so don’t be surprised to see him stand trade. Khabib is currently 2/7 favourite to retain his belt in the UFC betting odds.

Professional career record and stats

Professional Record: 28-0-0

Height: 5’ 10”

Weight: 155lbs

Reach: 70”

Stance: Orthodox

D.O.B: 20/09/88

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