The MMA legend believes that Gaethje has a chance to beat Nurmagomedov thanks to the tools Gaethje picked up while working with coach Trevor Wittman.
“I think [Gaethje] could be the guy who beats [Khabib],” Rutten told Submission Radio (via Steven Marrocco of MMA Fighting). “I truly believe so, because he’s a great wrestler – he might stop the takedowns. Listen, the best thing that ever happened to Gaethje was getting knocked out, because I had been telling him at the World Series of Fighting and PFL so many times, ‘Why do you fight like this?’ [He said], ‘Because it’s exciting and I want to be here for the fans.’ And I said, ‘Dude, eventually it’s going to hurt you. You want to be able to speak to your kids when you’re going to have kids, right?’ When he got knocked out, now, suddenly, he starts fighting like his coach Trevor Wittman really wants. The way he was with [Tony] Ferguson, that was scary. I was afraid for Ferguson. He started shaking his head, I thought, oh, he’s got brain damage. He got hit so hard, and nobody’s been able to stop him. I know Gaethje is in Denver and he’s got the mile-high [environment], and they’ve got great stamina. I thought Ferguson could keep on pushing, but [Gaethje] had no problem. So now, Khabib is going to face someone with endless stamina, a freakin’ heart as big as a lion. Even if he’s tired, he will do the craziest things. He’s got great low kicks, he’s got great takedown defense, and who knows, man? He’s really started thinking later in his career, and that’s why you see him shine now. Maybe he’s going to shoot for a takedown. You don’t know what he’s going to do, because he’s never done it before.”
There won’t be many opportunities left for people to defeat Nurmagomedov as Gaethje is one of two opponents left for the fighter before a potential retirement takes place. Rutten also believes that Gaethje’s leg kicks and stamina could be what does Nurmagomedov in at UFC 254.
“I think that if Gaethje can do that as well with his low kicks; I wouldn’t do that in the beginning especially, because that might set him up to be taken down,” he said. “But now we’re going to find out if we can stop the takedowns from Khabib, and if he can Khabib is in trouble. He know’s he’s got the endless stamina. So he’s going to push this fight. Khabib’s probably the guy who works everybody in the gym, so he needs to find ways to get him really tired, because otherwise, he’s playing his game and is still in his zone. I think if Gathje is pushing, pushing, pushing, and once [Khabib] gets tired, and that’s the moment you want to start implementing the low kicks. Like in rounds three or four, once they start getting tired, because Khabib – I think nobody has ever fought a guy like Gaethje. This guy just comes forward the whole time and everything is power, and he’s got endless stamina. He’s a very hard guy to fight.”
UFC 254 takes place on Saturday, October 24 from Fight Island in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi with Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje headlining. Fightful is providing live coverage of the event, which streams live on ESPN+ pay-per-view.