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Khabib on father’s death ahead of UFC 254: Maybe this pain will put me on another level, make me stronger

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Russian mixed martial artist Nurmagomedov gives news conference Photo by Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images

Khabib Nurmagomedov will make his long-awaited return to action on Oct. 24, 2020, when he takes on Justin Gaethje in a Lightweight title unification match at UFC 254 at a location that has yet to-be-determined.

His comeback fight will take place just a few months after the death of his father, Abdulmanap, who passed away as a result of multiple complications stemming from COVID-19.

Abdulmanap was also “The Eagle’s” trainer and as the Lightweight champion declares, his friend. It was truly a tight bond and Khabib will be the first to admit that the loss has affected him greatly, including in training.

“I’m sure everyone in this room lost someone, A friend, a neighbor, a cousin, a mother, a father, girlfriend,” Khabib said during a recent interview with RT Sport (via MMA Fighting). “Everyone goes through loss, I understand that. But on the other hand it’s very difficult. Some people have strictly a father-son relationship, but my father was very close to me. We were like friends. He was my father and coach, we were always together. We were very close. Of course I’m sad. If I tell you with a straight face that it doesn’t affect my training, that’d be a lie.

“It does affect me, I think about him all the time,” he continued. “Maybe this pain will put me on another level and make me stronger. Any challenge either breaks you or makes you stronger. We’ll see what it does to me in time.”

Just the simple fact that Khabib decided to return to action this year shows his strength, according to those closest to him. Prior to his passing, Khabib’s father declared that “The Eagle” retiring once he hits 30-0 would be a big possibility.

As far as the possibility of that happening, “The Eagle” didn’t confirm it, but did touch on the fact that he’s been fighting for some time now and he is far from a spring chicken.

“As far as retirement, I’ve been having lots of different thoughts,” Khabib said. “Right now I’m thinking of my next fight. We’ll see what happens next. Right now I’m 31, I’ll be 32 in September. That’s a significant age. I’m no longer a rookie. Looking back at how much time I’ve invested in the sport, it’s fair to say I’m a veteran. I’ve been a professional fighter for 12 years, since 2008. I’ve been in the UFC more than eight years. If you look back, I’ve had an excellent career.”

At 28-0, 12-0 UFC, Khabib has the ultra-rare opportunity to not only go out as a champion, but also undefeated. Gaethje, meanwhile, would love nothing more than to put an end to that perfect run.

But if “Highlight” can’t do it, perhaps this former dual-division champion can.

Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 254 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN 2/ESPN+ at 12 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN+.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 254: “Khabib vs. Gaethje” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.