Abu Dhabi, UAE — Trevor Wittman’s star pupil has the biggest fight of his career on his hands this weekend. At UFC 249, interim lightweight champion Justin Gaethje will take on the undefeated, 28-0 Khabib Nurmagomedov.
When it comes to readying his students, Wittman told media outlets in Abu Dhabi on Thursday that “my purpose as a coach and as a person is to externalize the internal champion. I feel that’s what I do very well.”
But when it comes to Khabib, what sets Gaethje apart? What’s the game plan for a fighter who has arguably never lost a round?
“I tailor my game plan throughout a career for a championship fight. We work on fundamentals from the very beginning,” Wittman explained. “One thing I think we were able to do very well was keep our most important weapon hidden. With Justin Gaethje, he’s a extremely good wrestler, and he’s got a very unique style in wrestling. And he hasn’t had to use it.”
That is something any number of observers have lamented over the years. Gaethje is gifted at both freestyle and folkstyle wrestling. However, “The Highlight” has rarely shown any glimpses of it, relying instead on his relentless attack on the feet.
“It’s very hard to go and game plan against someone’s wrestling when they haven’t showed it,” observed Wittman. So whether by design or accident, Gaethje’s past reluctance to show his wrestling may be the wild card against Khabib. “I always call wrestling the ‘get out of jail card’ in fight sports,” the coach continued. “Because wrestling I believe is the most dominant, position-controlling piece you can have. So I feel good about that.”
That said, Trevor Wittman is not about to overlook the abilities of the UFC lightweight champion. “Khabib is the best at what he does. So it’s not like I’m going, ‘hey we’re going to go in there and out-wrestle him.’ That’s just a bonus of what we have.”
UFC 254 takes place on “Fight Island” (Yas Island) in Abu Dhabi at the Flash Forum on Saturday, October 24. The main card airs live on PPV following televised and online prelims.