UFC phenomenon Khamzat Chimaev expects Khabib Nurmagomedov to defend his light crown at UFC 254 next week, but warns that Justin Gaethje’s power could prove crucial.

However, the clash of the main event this coming weekend between the undefeated champion and the man considered by most to be his most dangerous challenger falls under a familiar narrative to most observers: striker versus grappler.

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Nevertheless, mixed martial arts is a far more diverse game today than it was 20 or even 10 years ago. Proof of this is Khabib’s successful title defense against Conor McGregor two years ago, in which he dominated the Irishman on the ground, but also dropped him on his knees in the second round with a perfectly coordinated overhand.

Conversely, Gaethje is considered one of the most powerful pound-for-pound strikers in the UFC. His punches have been found to be enough to end a fight instantly, while his creeping kicks have been known to rob opponents of their mobility so he can land on their chin. However, all of this is based on one of the most successful college grappling resumes in the division.

Among all the intangibles that will make up the highly anticipated fight next weekend, Khamzat Chimaev expects the championship belt to stay around Khabib’s waist – as long as the Russian champion respects the problems that Gaethje poses in the cage.

“I think Khabib [wins]”Chimaev told the media, including RT Sport, in Abu Dhabi.

There is one caveat to this prediction, however.

“Justin, he hits hard,” warned Chimaev. “If he scores, anything can happen in a fight.”

And that, in the opinion of most, is the point of this fight. Khabib’s strategy against powerful strikers was usually to bring the fight to the ground as quickly as possible. He shot Conor McGregor’s legs in the first few seconds of their fight and will likely do so somewhere before the middle of the first round against Gaethje.

The difference maker, however, could be Gaethje’s own struggle. Gaethje, an NCAA Division I All-American, was recently inducted into the University of Northern Colorado Hall of Fame for Athletics for his accomplishments in college wrestling.

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Gaethje has said that he was convinced he was going to get into mixed martial arts because he had success in wrestling sessions with UFC legend Georges St-Pierre, a man who is considered one of the greatest MMA wrestlers of all time – and if he caused GSP, who fought a division above him, some problems spot. Would it be surprising if he could do the same to Khabib?

However, Gaethje will probably be more concerned with directing force blows on Khabib’s chin, which, similar to Chimaev suspects, could drastically change the course of the fight in one blow.


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