Eddie Alvarez doesn’t think Justin Gaethje has enough tools on the ground to deal with Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Gaethje (22-2 MMA, 5-2 UFC) will attempt to unify his interim lightweight title with champion Nurmagomedov (28-0 MMA, 12-0 UFC) in the main event of UFC 254, which takes place on Oct. 24 at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.
Considering Gaethje’s collegiate wrestling background, many are viewing him as Nurmagomedov’s toughest test to date. After going 1-2 in his first three UFC fights, including a knockout loss to Alvarez, Gaethje has finished his past four opponents in a row.
But despite Gaethje’s recent success and more reserved approach, Alvarez, the former UFC and Bellator lightweight champion, thinks the fight will ultimately come down to grappling, and he doesn’t think Gaethje has the ability to threaten Nurmagomedov on the ground.
“The style matchup I think – whenever I look at a big fight like that, the first thing I ask myself is kind of where I feel like the fight is going to take place,” Alvarez told MMA Junkie Radio. “The majority of the fight, where is it going to happen, and I just see Khabib taking him down. We’ve got to assume it’s going to be on the ground, and I just don’t feel like Justin has the experience jiu-jitsu-wise to be able to deal with what Khabib is going to be able to bring on the ground.”
No one has had an answer to Nurmagomedov’s dominant grappling thus far in his MMA career, but Gaethje has said he is looking to make the fight ugly. He insists he wants to go right at Nurmagomedov and meet him in the middle, but Alvarez thinks “The Highlight” is coming in with the wrong approach.
“I think it takes some time, like a lot of strategy to fight a guy like Khabib, and I think Justin’s style is tailor made for Khabib,” Alvarez said. “Justin is a come-forward fighter, and I think against a guy like Khabib, you need to be really lateral. You need to move a lot so he can’t get square and then get his shots in on you and Justin’s kinda there. He’s right in front of you and even his mind coming into the fight when I hear the media, ‘I’ve just got to create a car accident,’ I don’t know if that’s the right mindset against Khabib.
“I know he wants to hurt him, and you want to do that, but it should be more of a ‘tag, you’re it,’ game against Khabib and making sure you’re keeping lateral and then ‘tags, you’re it,’ one-twos down the middle and then move again, and that’s how I would like the first round or two played against a guy like Khabib in order to stop that takedown and stop that dominant grappling he has.”
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