UFC 254 news: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Justin Gaethje round-by-round prediction

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Saturday night sees the eyes of the fight world fall on the UAE as UFC 254 is headlined by the lightweight unification bout between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje.

As champions collide at 'Fight Island' in Abu Dhabi, Khabib looks to retain his undefeated 28-fight record against the interim holder.

Gaethje, however, looks to be the Russian's greatest test so far with his collegiate wrestling background, which makes for a mouth-watering clash in the desert this weekend.

So how might the fight play out? Here are few round-by-round predictions.

Round 1

Both men are well-versed in grappling exchanges, but due to Gaethje's style, Khabib may elect to hold back from his opponent early doors.

Nurmagomedov's victory over Conor McGregor in 2018 was signified by his early first-round take-down of the Irishman, but Gaethje's ability to counter effectively, might signal a different approach in the opening throes.

Gaethje kicks have become the American's weapon of choice in recent fights, and his razor-sharp missiles have in the past torn Dustin Poirier's quad muscle mid-fight.

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In a bout that could go the distance, early points could be vital to the outcome over a potential 25 minutes.

Round 2

Depending on the fight's cagey opening or not, Khabib will look to round two to go on the offensive and attempt to break down Gaethje's defences.

Though his best chance of victory, Gaethje must avoid Khabib's early energy-sapping grapples on the canvas, and look to stay on two feet, attacking the Russian's lower body.

At this point, however, both men will still keep their energy tanks in reserve, holding the middle ground for the sounding of the second bell.

Round 3

This is where the fight could be decided.

If Gaethje is able to exert some form of dominance over his opponent, the interim champ still has his money-maker left hook in the locker.

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From an energy point of view alas, this could be his final avenue to utilise this weapon and the American will be seeking a window to deploy.

Similarly, round three will be when Khabib will be looking for submissions to wear Gaethje down.

The unbeaten Russian has not hidden his ambitions in wanting to tire his foe down before seeking a decisive strike, and that could happen from here on in.

Round 4

It would be best not to blink in the next five minutes at this juncture.

If Gaethje gets this far, it will be seen as a success, but round four is by far his most daunting prospect.

Khabib has stopped both Poirier and infamously McGregor in the penultimate round of his previous fights, and a tiring Gaethje could be susceptible.

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The collegiate wrestler has been known to go all-out in the opening three rounds in the past, and by now, could be flagging.

Equally, however, Gaethje's May opponent in Tony Ferguson was on the receiving end of a barrage from Gaethje in the middle rounds last time out, and could catch Khabib cold. 

Round 5

The final round is perhaps Gaethje's best shot at the win.

If the fight gets this far, both men will be sapped of energy to say the least, but Khabib will still hold the upper hand.

Against Al Iaquinta, however, Khabib was opened up in the final five minutes with late flurries; Gaethje is a bigger hitter than Iaquinta. 

Add to that the fact that Khabib is yet to go the distance in a UFC bout, whilst Gaethje beat Ferguson with fifth-round stoppage last time out.

Gaethje could still be able to take down Khabib with attacks to now battered legs, and could draw upon his wrestling skills yet.

If both men are left standing by now, the final minutes could be a brutal frenzy of action.

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