Khabib Nurmagomedov would take another step towards proving he is the greatest fighter in the history of the UFC if he beats lightweight rival Justin Gaethje on Saturday night, according to company president Dana White.
Nurmagomedov has seen off all 28 opponents to hold the mixed martial arts record for the longest active undefeated streak, which he is putting on the line alongside his 155lb title at UFC 254 at the Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi.
If he has his hand raised then White believes the Russian would be the best pound-for-pound fighter within the organisation, overtaking former light-heavyweight titlist Jon Jones, while enhancing his standing to be considered as the greatest UFC combatant of all-time.
“I think if Khabib beats Justin on Saturday, he’s the number one pound-for-pound fighter in the world and he’s on his way to ‘GOAT’ status,” White said.
“It’s pretty impressive what this guy has done. He’s one of the biggest stars in the sport.
“You know what I think of Jon Jones and we all talk about what Jon’s accomplished in his career, look at how many fights this guy (Nurmagomedov) has had and he’s still undefeated. This is a nasty, nasty weight division.”
Nurmagomedov, who was palpably relieved when it was announced he had made weight after having to strip naked to do so, gave a characteristically more modest appraisal of how he wants to be remembered when he bows out of the sport.
“I just want to retire as the undisputed, undefeated UFC lightweight champion,” he said. “Beating a guy like Justin Gaethje is going to be big for my legacy.”
Nurmagomedov has used his superior wrestling to wear down noted strikers Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier before claiming spectacular submission victories in his most recent two contests.
Gaethje is another opponent renowned for his devastating power, which he demonstrated with a brutal stoppage of Tony Ferguson, sending shockwaves through the division to become interim champion and earn a title shot.
His status as a former All-American wrestler means he could be more successful at keeping the fight off the mat, but Nurmagomedov is undeterred, saying: “I prepare myself to try to take him down 100 times.
“In the first round, he’s very dangerous, Justin and Conor are two of the most dangerous guys in the first round. But if you’re talking about second and third rounds, they become a bit more like regular fighters.
“He has dynamite in his hands, a very good kick. More than Dustin and Conor and other guys, he knows how to wrestle. It’s going to be a little bit hard.”
Gaethje, who holds an MMA record of 22 wins and two losses and also weighed in on the 155lb limit, is well aware of the challenge he faces as he believes Nurmagomedov is yet to even lose a round in the UFC.
“I will not allow him to put me on the fence and if I do then I’m screwed,” Gaethje said.
“I’m not even supposed to be here, this is supposed to be Tony Ferguson. Thank God I got that opportunity and I took it from him, I took his soul.
“When I’m under those lights it’s just what I do, it’s ingrained in both of us, we’ll both go out there and we will fight for our lives, it’s who we are.”