UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov will look to extend his perfect record to 29-0 against Justin Gaethje on Saturday in the main event of UFC 254 on Fight Island, and the circumstances will be much different than he has ever faced before.
The 32-year-old will compete in Abu Dhabi for the first time since the loss of his father, Abdulmanap, who died in July due to heart complications impacted by COVID-19. Saturday will also mark Nurmagomedov’s first time fighting without a crowd, which is something he told ESPN he would miss.
Gaethje (22-2) already fought in an empty arena in May and delivered arguably the best performance of his career in an interim title bout against Tony Ferguson at UFC 249. He could have pursued a money fight against Conor McGregor following that win but said a unification bout against Nurmagomedov (28-0) was far more important.
It’s one of the most anticipated fights in UFC lightweight history, and the result figures to have an enormous impact on the UFC’s schedule in 2021. Will the winner face McGregor? Will Nurmagomedov face Georges St-Pierre in his last bout before retiring?
The co-main event is a key middleweight bout between Robert Whittaker and Jared Cannonier in which the winner will likely get the next shot at UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. Whittaker fought on Fight Island once before, scoring a unanimous decision win over Darren Till. Cannonier hasn’t fought since last September when he defeated Jack Hermansson by TKO. Since then, he underwent surgery on an injured pectoral muscle.
Brett Okamoto, Jeff Wagenheim and Marc Raimondi recap all the action as it happens on Fight Island.
Lightweight title: Khabib Nurmagomedov (c) (28-0, 12-0 UFC, -350) vs. Justin Gaethje (ic) (22-2, 5-2 UFC, +285)
Middleweight: Robert Whittaker (22-5, 12-3 UFC, -105) vs. Jared Cannonier (13-4, 6-4 UFC, -115)
Heavyweight: Alexander Volkov (31-8, 5-2 UFC, -185) vs. Walt Harris (13-8, 7-6 UFC, +165)
Middleweight: Jacob Malkoun (4-0, 0-0 UFC, +210) vs. Phil Hawes (8-2, 0-0 UFC, -250)
Women’s flyweight: Lauren Murphy (13-4, 5-4 UFC, -220) vs. Liliya Shakirova (8-1, 0-0 UFC, +185)
Light heavyweight: Magomed Ankalaev (13-1, 4-1 UFC, -300) vs. Ion Cuțelaba (15-5, 4-4 UFC, +250)
Heavyweight: Stefan Struve (33-12, 13-10 UFC, -105) vs. Tai Tuivasa (10-3, 3-3 UFC, -115)
Catchweight (140 pounds): Nathaniel Wood (17-4, 4-1 UFC, +145) vs. Casey Kenney (15-2-1, 4-1 UFC, -165)
Welterweight: Alex Oliveira (22-8-1 1 NC, 17-6 1 NC, -105) vs. Shavkat Rakhmonov (12-0, 0-0 UFC, -115)
Light heavyweight: Da Un Jung (13-2, 2-0 UFC, -360) vs. Sam Alvey (33-14, 10-9 UFC, +290)
Women’s flyweight: Liana Jojua 8-3, 1-1 UFC, +350) vs. Miranda Maverick (9-2, 0-0 UFC, -430)
Lightweight: Joel Álvarez (17-2, 2-1 UFC, -170) vs. Alexander Yakovlev (24-9-1, 3-5 UFC, +150)
(c) = defending champion; (ic) = interim champ