Khabib Nurmagomedov will fight Justin Gaethje in a highly anticipated main event that was not on the radar in early 2020
Entering this year, Ultimate Fighting Championship brain confidence felt that 2020 would peak with a successful rematch between odd Irish star Conor McGregor and undefeated lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov
After Donald Cerrone was dismantled in 40 seconds by McGregor in January, Dana White, UFC President of the Republic, spoke openly of associating McGregor with Nurmagomedov again, but in a location worthy of the allure of combat White mentioned the O2 Arena in London and AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX as possible destinations, provided Nurmagomedov defeats Tony Ferguson in a title fight that was slated for April in Brooklyn.
The April event was postponed and his featured fight restructured when pandemic restrictions prevented Nurmagomedov from reaching the United States from Russia Ferguson then lost more than five punitive rounds in May to hard-hitting Colorado lightweight Justin Gaethje.
Now the biggest UFC fight of the year will pit Nurmagomedov against Gaethje on Saturday, on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, in front of officials and a broadcast team, but without spectators or income from ticket sales
Still, White won’t classify Saturday’s main event as a consolation prize for a Nurmagomedov-McGregor rematch that has yet to materialize Instead, he calls the fight a potential record and the culmination of a trying year
“You have all the makings for a massive fight,” White said this week. “This stuff is the biggest fight we’ve ever fought”
What makes the Whites so confident that a game that wasn’t on the radar at the start of this year will appeal to fans so much?
Nurmagomedov, 32, is a smothering pressure fighter who complements his relentless struggle with well-placed punches and kicks.His 28-0 record is rare in a sport where elites are often pressured into beat at the top of the competition
« I know he can wrestle, » Nurmagomedov said of Gaethje. « But what about wrestling for 25 minutes? »
Gaethje, 31, was an All-American wrestler in his freshman year at the University of Northern Colorado But as a mixed martial artist he prefers high-impact, crowd-pleasing strikes Against Nurmagomedov, Gaethje intends to fight just enough to keep the fight on his terms, and he said he didn’t even study Nurmagomedov’s video during training camp
« I’m always focused on my best self, » Gaethje said « I won’t allow him to put me on the fence If I do, then I’m screwed »
When the New York State Athletic Commission declined to approve Nurmagomedov-Ferguson in April, as coronavirus cases engulfed New York City, the UFC began an intensive search for a new site, with a local commission comfortable allowing fights during a White pandemic mentioned the possibility of a private island for fighters based outside the United States, and the UFC also made a plan to move the fight to Nurmagomedov- Ferguson in arena on Native American tribal lands in California
The card finally landed in Jacksonville, Fla., with Gaethje replacing Ferguson, and in June the UFC and the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism announced they would collaborate on a restricted environment on the Yas Island, where the UFC would host four events over a two-week period in mid-July
After hosting 15 events at Apex, a UFC-owned training center and training venue in Las Vegas, in August and September, the company returned to Abu Dhabi for five more cards, including Saturday’s fights at UFC 254
The situation is fixable – allowing the UFC to meet its schedule and deliver fights for its TV partner, ESPN And White proudly points out that the company has not had to lay off employees during the pandemic. p>
But it’s not ideal for one of the biggest fights of the year, especially when the original plan involved filling an NFL stadium
“If the world gets back to normal these fights can take place anywhere,” White said “It has been, without a doubt, the most difficult year of my career, but also the most rewarding”
Nurmagomedov, the 155-pound UFCChampion, has only competed twice in the past 24 months, in part because of the pandemic His most recent victory came thanks to a third-round submission by Dustin Poirier in September 2019
In the previous October, he had caught McGregor in the fourth round of their grudge match, squeezing McGregor’s neck and jaw until he submitted.After the last bell, Nurmagomedov dove into the audience to fight rowdy McGregor’s entourage, sparking a brawl that suspended both fighters in Nevada
During Nurmagomedov’s absence, Gaethje’s profile grew He stepped in for Nurmagomedov and knocked out Ferguson, winning the UFC Intermediate lightweight title This guaranteed Gaethje a shot at Nurmagomedov for the undisputed belt
From a business standpoint, White insists that Nurmagomedov comes with an integrated audience of paying customers, even though coronavirus restrictions will prevent them from watching in person
Nurmagomedov has 22 million Instagram followers, and White told a recent video of Nurmagomedov on the UFC’s Facebook page racked up over 100 million views He also said Nurmagomedov’s character was the most frequently Selected by UFC Online Players
Although most UFC pay-per-view events, no matter where they occur, take place during prime time for US viewers, the main Saturday card begins at 2 p.m. Eastern Time. start is best suited for Nurmagomedov fans in Russia and the Republic of Dagestan, where he grew up.The pay-per-view will also start at 10 pm local time in Abu Dhabi, where Nurmagomedov beat Poirier and where he trained for this fight
« Apparently people in the industry don’t know it, but Khabib is one of the biggest stars in sports, not just the UFC, » White said at this week’s press conference. « I could just telling numbers all day long «
UFC 254 start time
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