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UFC 254: Khabib Nurmagomedov has a long way to go before cementing G.O.A.T. status

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There’s work to be done if Lightweight champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov, wants to leap from the top of the P4P rankings into convincing G.O.A.T. territory.

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President, Dana White, made it clear on Wednesday morning in Abu Dhabi just how highly he regards Lightweight champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov.

“Khabib is looking down the barrel of not only the greatest to ever do it in this division, but listen, I think if he beats Justin on Saturday, he’s the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world,” White said at the UFC 254 pre-fight press conference. “And he’s on his way to G.O.A.T. status.”

Khabib currently sits at No. 2 on UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings list, sandwiched by Jon Jones (No. 1) and Israel Adesanya (No. 3). Stipe Miocic sits at No. 4 and Kamaru Usman at No. 5. Looking at that list, it’s hard not to disagree with White on the current P4P point. Jones’ overall resume gives him solid G.O.A.T. credentials, but his performances over the last two years are a far cry from the dominant performances of his 2010-2017 heyday.

Indeed, he barely managed to walk away from his last two fights with his belt.

But, when it comes to G.O.A.T. status, there’s a lot of work left for Khabib to do if he wants to retire in the running for that position. Justin Gaethje made a pretty accurate assessment of Nurmagomedov’s situation when it came to that. In an interview with ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” Gaethje noted that Khabib didn’t have the resume or the title defenses to argue in his favor. Any debate made on his behalf currently comes on account of his pure dominance.

“He’s going to be remembered as one of the greatest of all time because of how he beats people,” Gathje said. “When you say this guy fought 28 times and only lost one round, that’s special. That’s something we’ll talk about forever. He won’t have a normal legacy per se, he’s kind of creating a different one. A different path for other people.”

That’s right: Nurmagomedov has only lost one round during his entire professional mixed martial arts (MMA) career (the third round against Conor McGregor). It’s a ridiculous feat. Think about it: 53 pro MMA rounds won in a row, 29 of them in UFC competition. The only other fighter to come close to that stat is Georges St-Pierre, who won 33 consecutive rounds in UFC between 2007 and 2011.

St-Pierre is one of the fighters who stands between Khabib and a shot at the G.O.A.T. title, which is the reason we’re not surprised the Dagestani champion is angling for a fight with the currently retired two division champion. But, even a win over the aging Canadian star wouldn’t be enough to secure the title of G.O.A.T., even if Khabib won and walked away a perfect 30-0.

For sure, his legend would live on forever. Fans would have ample ammunition to argue his worthiness for the G.O.A.T. title. And walking away with an unblemished record would put him above other contenders like Anderson Silva and Fedor Emelianenko. But, too much of Nurmagomedov’s record and dominance took place on the climb up to the top of the Lightweight division. His resume is still light on a few essential key ingredients: top five opponents, and title defenses.

This weekend (Sat., Oct. 24, 2020) will mark just his third Lightweight title defense. That number is dwarfed by Jon Jones (11), Demetrious Johnson (11), Anderson Silva (10), Georges St-Pierre (9), and Jose Aldo (7). As for Top 5 opponents, he has four on his resume: Rafael dos Anjos, Edson Barboza, Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier.

There’s work to be done in order to claim the crown of G.O.A.T., and Khabib knows it. He recently refuted the idea that he would retire at 30-0, and a word that he used several times in relation to his future was ‘legacy.’ Khabib made it clear he plans to stay at 155 pounds, not jump around to different weight classes like many other champions have.

To hold onto the Lightweight title at a time like this, with so many sharks in his division ... even if the fights end up being fiercer and less dominant than those of his past, it’s the victories and title defenses that will cement his legacy and position in the G.O.A.T. conversation. And that’s good news for us, because it could keep Khabib in the sport for a few more years where we get to enjoy witnessing his greatness.

MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 254 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN 2/ESPN+ at 12 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN+.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 254: “Khabib vs. Gaethje” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.