ABU DHABI – Javier Mendez doesn’t think Khabib Nurmagomedov will be facing his sternest test to date Saturday.
UFC lightweight champion Nurmagomedov (28-0 MMA, 12-0 UFC) defends his title against Justin Gaethje in the main event of UFC 254, which takes place at Flash Forum on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.
With his collegiate wrestling background and proverbial dynamite in his hands, Gaethje (22-2 MMA, 5-2 UFC) possesses a well-rounded game that could give the undefeated champion some trouble.
But Mendez thinks Nurmagomedov has already faced his toughest challenge when he submitted Conor McGregor at UFC 229 to retain his title. Although it was a mostly dominant performance by Nurmagomedov, McGregor (22-4 MMA, 10-2 UFC) took a round from him, which no one else has done.
At a pre-fight news conference Thursday in Abu Dhabi, Mendez explained why he thinks McGregor, not Gaethje, will remain Nurmagomedov’s biggest test.
“I thought when I looked at him, I was thinking probably the second biggest threat because I still to this day believe Conor McGregor was,” Mendez said. “And the reason why I believe Conor was because of that precision striking. But Justin could easily prove me wrong and prove to be the toughest test we’ve ever had. We’ve yet to see that, but I know we’ve already seen Conor and that’s why I always say Conor because if you think about it, who’s won a round against Khabib? Conor.
“And who’s given Khabib a tough time? The first round, he took Conor down. But how much damage did Khabib give him? No, Conor was very, very good there. So to me, I had to give it to Conor for that. I haven’t seen Justin. Now obviously if I’ve seen Justin already and we’ve fought him already and we are victorious like I’m hoping, then I can tell you 100 percent he was the toughest. But right now, I think in theory he’s No. 2.”
UFC 254 takes place Saturday at Flash Forum on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. The main card streams on pay-per-view after prelims on ESPN 2/ESPN+.