Undefeated UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov will enter one of the most important fights of his storied career tomorrow afternoon (Sat., Oct. 24, 2020) live on ESPN+ PPV from inside Flash Forum on “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., when he unifies his title with interim champion Justin Gaethje.
While Gaethje is the betting underdog and needs to fight a perfect fight to overthrow Khabib, UFC 254 isn’t going to be a cakewalk for Nurmagomedov. Not only did the reigning lightweight king barely weigh in at 155 pounds on Friday, but Khabib will be competing in front of no fans for the first time ever this weekend on “Fight Island.”
Gaethje was able to gain this experience was he knocked off Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 this past May, but Nurmagomedov has always competed in front of fans. His last fight against Dustin Poirier, which took place at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi, offered a sellout crowd. With COVID-19 restrictions still in place UFC 254 will offer something new for the seemingly unflappable Russian champion.
“When I fight here at 242, one year ago, it was crazy crowd, crazy fans around the world come here, a lot of people from my family, like my father was with me,” Khabib told UFC Arabia. “It was great time last time in Abu Dhabi when I fight and right now it’s different without fans. Honestly, this energy I don’t like. I really want to fight when the fans come back, but what can we do?”
Nurmagomedov, who is hoping to push his unscathed UFC record to 13-0 with a win over Gaethje, will be competing for the first time in over 13 months. It’s one of the longest layoffs of his UFC career and something that may be a little more difficult to brush off given the new “Fight Island” environment.
“When fans are there, this is like different level energy,” Khabib said. “With the fans and without fans is completely two different fights. Some fighters, when they don’t have fans, they fight good. When they have fans they fight little bit bad because they’re nervous. If you talk about myself, I love fans. When fans are there, they give me good energy. Even if they support me or not, I have very good energy when fans are there.
“Now I’m gonna fight without fans, we’ll see. We’ll see, but when cage close, I think nothing gonna change. I’m just gonna go and hunt and try to find my opponent.”
If Khabib is able to continue his dominant ways and take out Gaethje this weekend at UFC 254 it will leave him on the doorstep of eternal greatness. The Russian champion could end up moving up in weight and challenging the likes of former UFC champion Georges St-Pierre or he could stay put and defend his lightweight title a few more times.
Nurmagomedov seems more inclined to challenge GSP, though, especially considering his next 155-pound fight could come against former foe Conor McGregor or Dustin Poirier, who are expected to fight early next year.
“I don’t think I’m gonna give these guys a rematch or something like this,” Nurmagomedov said. “They don’t deserve this. I fight with them both, I finish both of them, and these fights don’t give me good energy. For example, vs. Justin Gaethje, it’s like I can’t wait. This fight makes me excited, but Dustin or Conor, these guys don’t make me excited because I already beat them. Why I have to fight with them?”
What do you think, Maniacs? Will having no fans change the way Khabib performs at UFC 254?
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 254 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN+/ESPN2 at 12 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN+.