MMA fans around the world are gearing up for what could prove to be the hottest matchup of the year, with lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim champ Justin Gaethje facing off at a title unification bout at UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, this Saturday. This electric main card fight is a pay-per-view event, so you’ll need to sign up for ESPN+in order to stream it live this weekend. In the meantime, if you’re eager to learn more about the star underdog, then read on for everything you need to know about Justin Gaethje before UFC 254 airs.
Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje is the current UFC interim lightweight champion, a title he won following his upset victory at UFC 249 in May where he ended Tony Ferguson’s 12-win streak with a fifth-round TKO. The 31-year-old American fighter is widely regarded as one of the strongest grapplers in the UFC and has a long history with wrestling: Gaethje began wrestling at the age of 4 and was a celebrated high school and collegiate wrestler before he made his professional MMA debut in 2011.
The Highlight eventually signed with the UFC in 2017, but got off to a rocky start with two back-to-back losses against Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier. Since those defeats, however, the wrestler-turned-UFC fighter has racked up some impressive wins, not the least of which was his recent victory over Ferguson that earned him the interim lightweight championship. Gaethje currently boasts a record of 22 wins and two losses, and despite his wrestling pedigree, 19 of those victories have come via knockout (somewhat ironically, only one has been via submission).
That’s due to Gaethje’s stand-up fighting style with which he employs strikes to put pressure on his opponent without overfocusing on takedowns. He is particularly well-known for his powerful punches — most of his knockout victories have been achieved with his fists — as well as his heavy leg kicks. Gaethje has said that he likes to put on entertaining performances rather than simple wrestling matches, as this is both more exciting for the fans and could give him greater earning potential.
That said, against an opponent as dangerous as Khabib — the undefeated lightweight champion and one of the most dominant fighters in the game — being “exciting” will not be enough to clinch the victory. Gaethje’s folkstyle wrestling credentials will give him some advantages that many of Khabib’s previous opponents didn’t have, though, and The Highlight has stated that he plans to force Nurmagomedov into a striking contest and will do what he can to keep the fight in the center of the Octagon (and not on the cage where Khabib has finished many of his fights).
Time will tell if Gaethje’s strategy will allow him to deliver Khabib’s first defeat, and if you want to stream the UFC 254 pay-per-view live this Saturday to find out, then now’s the time to sign up for ESPN+ The main card fights start at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT and will air exclusively via ESPN+.