MMA: Gaethje insists he had Nurmagomedov 'in trouble'

South China Morning Post

Posted at Oct 26 2020 07:12 AM | Updated as of Oct 26 2020 07:13 AM

Khabib Nurmagomedov needed just six-and-a-half minutes of Saturday's night's five-round UFC 254 main event to put Justin Gaethje away with a triangle choke.

But "The Highlight" (22-3) feels that doesn't tell whole story of the fight.

"It sucks. I'm hurt, I'm emotional, but ultimately it's the name of the game," 31-year-old American Gaethje told ESPN on the post-event broadcast. "I had him in trouble. I wasn't very many kicks away from him not being able to walk.

"He's gonna be limping for at least the next three weeks. That's nothing to be proud of because I lost, but I felt alive, and I felt great."

UFC president Dana White revealed after the fight Nurmagomedov (29-0) went to the hospital three weeks ago with a broken foot and two broken toes, calling him "the baddest (expletive) on the planet" after his masterclass on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.

Gaethje certainly exacerbated the 32-year-old Dagestani native's pain with some brutal leg kicks at the behest of his coach Trevor Wittman. So much so, Nurmagomedov quickly decided to revert to "father's plan" and take his opponent down in the second round after mostly staying on the feet in the first.

"I knew he was gonna try to get me to the ground," Gaethje said. "I was focused, I believe I did a very good job of controlling the distance and threatening and causing damage. I caused damage in there, but again that was a five-round fight. I have to be better on the bottom.

"I love striking so much, I love fighting so much, but to be the best in the world you have to be great everywhere. He is better than me at grappling and that's obviously where my focus has to be right now."

Gaethje embraced a tearful Nurmagomedov in the Octagon after coming around, patting him on the chest and saying "you (expletive) monster". "The Eagle" became overwhelmed with emotion, announcing his shock retirement after revealing he promised his mother this would be his last fight following the death of his father and coach Abdulmanap aged 57 in July.

"He just retired. I hope that's something he really thought about," Gaethje added. "I don't think anybody should be making decisions like that in the cage.

"We're so emotional - win or lose, you have no idea what we go through internally, him especially with the loss of his father. I don't want to imagine what he was going through. As soon as the fight was over I told him he made his father proud."

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