Justin Gaethje's evolution as a fighter has a lot of his peers convinced heading into the UFC lightweight title fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 254.
Vicente Luque, Alex Hernandez, Eryk Anders, Khama Worthy, Zak Cummings and Mike Rodriguez all picked Gaethje over Nurmagomedov when speaking with Fightful.
"I want to go with Gaethje just because he brings a different kind of energy," Luque shared. "He is a great wrestler. A lot of people don't know that. He has a great background in wrestling. That is going to be tough for Khabib, especially because Khabib's game, his safety, is going for the wrestling. If he cannot find the striking, he will go down there to the wrestling and try to tire out the guy. I think Gaethje can withstand that pressure. On the stand-up, he can land something surprising and finish the fight. It's a tough one. I'll go maybe a late knockout for Gaethje in the fourth or fifth-round, but by very little."
"I've got Gaethje. You say this and Khabib might go out there and do what he does to literally every human being on Earth," Hernandez chimed in. "If I were to look at it, in order to beat Gaethje you want to beat him as a boxer. Khabib is not going to do that. Gaethje has been in those dark waters and Khabib hasn't. Gaethje has evolved dramatically. He's going to be a far more tactical fighter on the feet, blending the defense when he needs to defend. I think he's going to make Khabib get desperate and really start over-extending himself."
Anders and Cummings shared the same cautious optimism as Luque and Hernandez.
"I think this is the hardest one because Gaethje has the X-factor," Anders told Fightful. "He's willing to take it to the dark water. It doesn't matter how many times Khabib takes him down. Every round starts on the feet. We've seen Khabib struggle to keep people on the ground and I think Gaethje's wrestling defense is really underrated. Gaethje's got to be the under dog. I'm putting my money on Gaethje."
"I'm going Gaethje over Khabib. I'm not confident but I'm sticking with it," Cummings said cautiously. "I think he has the best wrestling that Khabib's ever faced, honestly. Not that he can outwrestle him, but I think he will be able to stop some takedowns. We'll see, we'll see."
Rodriguez and Worthy were far more confident in picking Gaethje.
"I think Gaethje's got it," Rodriguez replied promptly. "He's got more tools, he's got a lot more tools."
"I think Gaethje is Khabib's Krypnonite," Worthy exclaimed. "I think he's going to attack Khabib's front leg like all hell. I think he's going to end up knocking Khabib out."
UFC 254 takes place on Saturday, October 24 from Fight Island on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. The pay-per-view card is headlined by Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje for the UFC lightweight championship. Keep up with Fightful for all your fight night coverage.