Tagged in: Justin Gaethje

Conor McGregor’s chance to lure Khabib Nurmagomedov back; Max Holloway’s lock on title shot

The UFC’s 2021 debut on ABC was big news for everything that happened inside the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Saturday, and everything that didn’t.

Max Holloway put on one of the most punishing, one-sided displays of boxing in UFC history, landing a record 445 significant strikes in his unanimous decision triumph over Calvin Kattar. Despite absorbing all of that damage, Kattar stood up to the barrage and made it to the final bell.

But just as big as Holloway’s declarative statement for a return shot at the featherweight championship was, the biggest question going into the night centered around the recently retired Khabib Nurmagomedov.

While Nurmagomedov announced his retirement after defeating Justin Gaethje in October, Dana White has been actively trying to draw him back into the fold for one more megafight, with Conor McGregor the likeliest opponent.

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White promised an update on Nurmagomedov’s position on a return fight, and while there wasn’t a definitive answer either way, White’s assertion that Nurmagomedov could be persuaded back into action with a particularly dominant performance in either of two key fights at UFC 257 — set to be headlined by McGregor and Dustin Poirier — left the door open a crack.

With an eye toward the fallout of Saturday’s events, Brett Okamoto answer some of the UFC’s most pressing questions as they project what’s to come.

A rematch versus Khabib Nurmagomedov is Conor McGregor’s to lose

Okamoto: One million percent. Nurmagomedov has spent the past two years basically saying he has no interest in McGregor, but the narrative around McGregor has changed in the past two years. After Nurmagomedov defeated him in 2018, McGregor’s career was really up in the air. It was not a question of whether he was about to retire but rather what he wanted out of the sport at that point.

A money fight once a year? Or did he want to try and get back to where he was in 2016, at the top of the lightweight division?

Would that loss to Nurmagomedov reignite his desire to be the best in the world, the same way he was obsessed with evening the score with Nate Diaz in 2016? It appears to have done the latter. McGregor looks motivated, just as he appeared motivated in 2020, before circumstances out of his control interrupted his plans for the year.

If he looks great versus Poirier and someone hands him a mic, McGregor is going to be the obvious choice to fight Nurmagomedov; and based on White’s comments on the matter, I now expect Nurmagomedov to take that fight, if offered.

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Khabib announces retirement after defeating Gaethje

Nurmagomedov submits Gaethje with triangle choke in round two despite competing with broken foot; Russian reveals shock retirement following the death of his father: “Today I want to say this is my last fight. No way am I coming here without my father”

Nurmagomedov extended his undefeated record to 29-0 with a second-round submission victory in Abu Dhabi – his third successful title defense, having previously beaten Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier.

It was also the Russian’s first fight without his father and coach, Abdulmanap, who died from complications caused by coronavirus earlier this year, and one he went into with a broken foot.

In an emotional post-fight interview

Nurmagomedov stated: “Today I want to say this is my last fight. No way am I coming here without my father. When UFC called me about Justin I spoke with my mother for three days. “She didn’t want me to fight without father and I said this is my last fight – and I have given her my word.

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UFC president Dana White revealed after the fight that Nurmagomedov had competed with a broken foot and that by retiring with a 29-0 record he has to be considered as one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time.

Nurmagomedov first claimed the UFC lightweight title with a points decision victory over Al Iaquinta at UFC 223 in 2018 before defending the title versus McGregor in Las Vegas later that year at UFC 229.

McGregor took to social media on Saturday night to congratulate Nurmagomedov and confirmed he would continue in the sport, even without the prospect of a rematch with the Russian.

“Good performance @TeamKhabib,” McGregor wrote on Twitter. “I will carry on. Respect and condolences on your father again also. To you and family. Yours sincerely, The McGregors.”

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Gaethje batters Ferguson to win UFC interim title

Two months ago, Justin Gaethje was training and waiting for the UFC to find his next rival.

On Saturday night, after accepting a short notice opportunity to compete in the UFC 249 main event, he stopped Tony Ferguson by TKO in the fifth round to become interim lightweight champion, setting up an inevitable showdown with Khabib Nurmagomedov later this year.

It was a jaw-dropping show, as Gaethje punished Ferguson round after round before finally putting him away with less than two minutes remaining in the combat.

“I knew I was a killer stepping in here,” Gaethje said about his performance. “No better drug on Earth. Adrenaline coursing through my veins.”

Following two consecutive losses, Gaethje started making noticeable changes to his strategy and approach to fighting without sacrificing any of his highlight-reel finishes.

It was more of the same at UFC 249 as he attacked Ferguson with devastating power behind his punches while refusing to engage in the wild exchanges that cost him so dearly in many past fights.

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“I had to lose to change,” Gaethje stated. “Can’t fix what’s not broken. I was getting hit too much, and I was having too much fun. At this level you absolutely cannot do that.”

While Ferguson did manage to put Gaethje down briefly at the end of the second round with a staggering uppercut, the former Ultimate Fighter winner failed to mount much offense over 25 minutes. He did display incredible durability, though, as he absorbed punches that would have likely knocked out every other lightweight on the roster.

Gaethje’s controlled aggression continued to add to his significant strike total as he cut up Ferguson’s face and left him a bloody mess by the fifth round. It was a stiff jab late in the fight that rattled Ferguson for the final time, and as he wobbled backwards toward the cage shaking his head, that forced referee Herb Dean to stop the fight.

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