Silver linings? Fans will mourn Khabib's removal from UFC 249, but Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje could serve up a barnstormer
Gaethje was confirmed as the replacement for the Russian UFC lightweight champion in the event's headliner after Khabib's seemingly cursed fight with Tony Ferguson was canceled for a FIFTH time due to the chaos caused by the coronavirus.
But what exactly can we expect to see after UFC chief Dana White finally confirmed the specifics of one of the most bizarre cards in the promotion's history?
The event, remember, was due to take place in New York City later this month but with the Big Apple being among the regions most affected by Covid-19 the promotion was forced into a U-turn and has yet to confirm the location of the card whose first bell is due in less than two weeks time.
One piece of information had slipped out, however. As first reported by ESPN's Ariel Helwani, UFC matchmakers' first port of call was to Gaethje - a fighter who has very much earned his fight moniker 'The Highlight'.Also on rt.com UFC tapping lightweight contender Justin Gaethje to replace Khabib against Tony Ferguson - report
A former champion in the World Series of Fighting (now Professional Fighters League), Gaethje entered the UFC with an undefeated record of 17-0 and a reputation as one of the sport's fiercest brawlers. That undefeated ledger no longer stands but the reputation remains steadfast, as characterized by wild throw-downs with the likes of Edson Barboza, Donald Cerrone, Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier.
But what exactly can we expect now that Gaethje has been drafted in on short notice to fight Tony Ferguson?
Gaethje is among the most credentialed wrestlers in the UFC, having attained NCAA Division 1 All-American honors in his collegiate career but has long displayed an almost strange reluctance to use these skills in mixed martial arts, preferring a strategy of 'wrestling in reverse' to avoid his opponent's takedowns and keep the fight on the feet.
While he has been heavily criticized for this strategy in the past, it could be most effective route to victory against Ferguson, a fighter who has been painstakingly working on his submission game under the tutelage of Eddie Bravo in preparation for Nurmagomedov.
Ferguson is an intrepid finisher on the ground, known for his vast array of chokes from impossible angles and this is an element of the fight best avoided by Gaethje.
If Ferguson has any weaknesses, they are on the feet. He has experienced significant trouble against the likes of Anthony Pettis, Lando Vannata and others in the past but Gaethje would be considered by most to be a far more concussive striker than the aforementioned names.Also on rt.com A history of violence: UFC star Justin Gaethje poised to join lightweight elite
Prior to the late changes to UFC 249, Gaethje had been angling for a fight with Conor McGregor but has remained relatively coy about the prospect of fighting Nurmagomedov, possibly due to the two fighters sharing the same management team.
A win against Tony Ferguson, though, very much opens the door to either a lightweight title shot or a highly lucrative showdown with the notorious Irishman.
Both, we're sure, are positions that Justin Gaethje would like to be in.