With the whole world still mostly cooped up in their homes, and no other sports to compete with for viewers, Justin Gaethje sent out a definitive statement during UFC 249 in Jacksonville, Florida. A war cry that he wants to be the one to unseat the king and knock a legend of the sport from his perch. Khabib Nurmagomedov’s 28-fight win streak, which has culminated in 12 straight UFC victories, is an impressive run to say the least. But this September, when UFC president Dana White has promised Gaethje a lightweight title shot and a chance to defeat a perfect fighter, we will see history in the making. It will be an upset, but when the dust settles, I’m sure we will all be able to see the writing was on the wall. Why, you say, should we bet on the rapscallion Gaethje, and not Nurmagomedov, 31, a long-standing champion who has already dispatched pretenders to the throne such as Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor? Well, if you watched UFC 249, you know why. The Arizona native Gaethje, a wrestler by trade, went toe to toe with Ferguson, a fighter who also had a 12-fight win streak going. Gaethje’s win was impressive because he emerged as a mature, wholly rounded fighter who has clearly learned from past mistakes. Previously he’s been known to attack too quickly after seeing his opponent show signs of weakness, finding himself caught trying to end a fight too early, and lacking energy when it eventually carries on. At UFC 249 he made no mistakes: he was calm after getting punished by Ferguson’s leg kicks early on, and rebounded from being knocked down by an uppercut to end the second. The old Gaethje would have either come out too hard in the third, or been thrown mentally, and in turn, made mistakes. But what we saw in Jacksonville was the emergence of a new man: Gaethje the veteran fighter. It’s where Gaethje, 31 won the fight, on his feet, that makes his victory all the more impressive, and builds a compelling case against Nurmagomedov. Gaethje and Ferguson, 36, did not spend much time on the ground, at all, over five rounds, totalling almost 23 minutes. UFC: Jones has everything to lose, little to gain from Ngannou A big part of what has made Ferguson so scary over the years is what seems like superhuman cardiovascular strength. This has been exhibited in multiple previous bouts where he simply wins by being the guy who is able to take more punishment for a longer period of time while still being aggressive. This was not the case with Gaethje, as with every second past the second round, it became more and more of a lopsided fight. Ferguson is also highly unpredictable, someone who is tough to get a read on in terms of his Octagon game plan. Normally, this would throw a fighter like Gaethje, who has been touted as a legitimate title contender for some time, but also faulted for having clear holes in his fight game. This is exactly why many believed Ferguson would eventually prevail over Gaethje, through a knockout, or scenario where Gaethje found himself in trouble. That did not happen and now Gaethje looks like one of the most compelling MMA fighters on the planet. Many will say Ferguson was tired and worn down from cutting weight twice in a short amount of time, but it does not serve as a quantifiable or justifiable answer as Gaethje took the fight on short notice as a somewhat valid counterpoint. Gaethje beat him, fair and square, putting a bow on the whole fight as referee Herb Dean was forced to step in during the fifth when it was quite clear Ferguson looked like a zombie from The Walking Dead . And when have you ever seen that scenario, ever, when it comes to “El Cucuy”? McGregor’s loss to Nurmagomedov, like many fighters who lose to the Russian, happened after the fight went to the ground. Gaethje, an All-American wrestler, which in itself is a legitimate accomplishment, may be Nurmagomedov’s most formidable foe yet when things leave the feet. And with Nurmagomedov coming off another break in action because of Ramadan (September will mark a full year since his last fight), he is going to find himself in tough against “The Highlight”. Gaethje is going to shock the UFC world. Cue the upset, and I will throw some humble pie in the oven for all the detractors who think this kid can’t do the impossible and finally topple the “The Eagle”. Help us understand what you are interested in so that we can improve SCMP and provide a better experience for you. We would like to invite you to take this five-minute survey on how you engage with SCMP and the news.