UFC 254: Live Updates and Results

October 24, 2020, 11:50 AM ET

October 24, 2020, 11:50 AM ET

By Morgan Campbell

Nurmagomedov told reporters this week that he was only focused on defending his title against Gaethje, but other fights – and other fighters – are still heavily over the main event on Saturday.

Tony Ferguson, whom Gaethje defeated to secure a title, told reporters this week that he wants his long-awaited shot at Nurmagomedov. The two men have been brought together four times, with each fight being canceled on reasons ranging from a knee injury to the coronavirus pandemic.

In ESPN’s “First Take,” Nurmagomedov grimly declined a proposal to fight Conor McGregor again.

“I don’t even want to talk about it right now,” he said.

But Nurmagomedov admitted that he would love to take on former welterweight champion Georges St.-Pierre, whose 2019 resignation may or may not be permanent.

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October 24, 2020, 11:36 AM ET

October 24, 2020, 11:36 AM ET

By Morgan Campbell

Nurmagomedov, 32, is a suffocating pressure fighter who complements his relentless struggle with well-placed punches and kicks. His 28-0 record is rare in a sport where the elites are often pushed to compete against top-level competitions.

“I know that he knows how to wrestle,” said Nurmagomedov of Gaethje. “But what about 25 minutes of wrestling?”

Gaethje, 31, was an All-American wrestler in his junior year at the University of Northern Colorado. But as a mixed martial artist he prefers philanthropic, effective strikes. Gaethje wants to wrestle just enough against Nurmagomedov to keep the fight going on his terms and he has said he didn’t even study a video of Nurmagomedov during the training camp.

“I am always focused on being the best I am,” said Gaethje. “I won’t let him put me on the fence. If I do that, I’ll be fucked up. “

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October 24, 2020, 11:35 AM ET

October 24, 2020, 11:35 AM ET

Die New York Times

When the New York State Athletic Commission denied Nurmagomedov-Ferguson’s approval in April as coronavirus cases overwhelmed New York City, the UFC began an intensive search for a new location, with a local commission conveniently allowing fighting during a pandemic. White mentioned the possibility of a private island for fighters outside the US, and the UFC also devised a plan to move the Nurmagomedov-Ferguson fight to an arena on Native American tribal land in California.

The card eventually landed in Jacksonville, Florida, with Gaethje replacing Ferguson. And by June, the UFC and the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism announced that they will be working together in a restricted setting on Yas Island, where the UFC will host four events over a two-week period in mid-July.

After 15 events at Apex, a UFC-owned training center and venue in Las Vegas, the company returned to Abu Dhabi for five more tickets in August and September, including Saturday’s bouts at UFC 254.

The situation is workable – so the UFC can stick to its schedule and fight for its television partner ESPN. And White proudly points out that the company didn’t have to lay off any employees during the pandemic.

But it’s not ideal for one of the biggest fights of the year, especially if the original plan included filling an NFL stadium.

“When the world goes back to normal, these battles can take place anywhere,” White said. “This was without a doubt the most challenging year of my career, but it was also the most rewarding.”

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October 24, 2020, 11:32 AM ET

October 24, 2020, 11:32 AM ET

By Morgan Campbell

Nurmagomedov, the UFC’s 155-pound champion, has only competed twice in the past 24 months, also because of the pandemic. His last win came through a submission by Dustin Poirier in the third round in September 2019.

Last October, he had attacked McGregor in the fourth round of her grudge game, clenching McGregor’s neck and jaw until he submitted. After the final bell, Nurmagomedov stepped into the audience to fight hecklers from McGregor’s entourage and started a brawl that suspended both fighters in Nevada.

During Nurmagomedov’s absence, Gaethje’s profile has grown. He stood up for Nurmagomedov and knocked out Ferguson to secure the UFC’s provisional lightweight title. That guaranteed Gaethje a shot at Nurmagomedov for the undisputed belt.

From a business perspective, White insists that Nurmagomedov has an integrated audience of paying customers, even if coronavirus restrictions keep them from watching in person.

Nurmagomedov has 22 million followers on Instagram, and White said a recent Nurmagomedov video on the UFC’s page garnered more than 100 million views. He also said that Nurmagomedov’s character was most often chosen by online UFC video game players.

Although most UFC pay-per-view events, regardless of where they take place, are prime-time for U.S. viewers, the main card begins on Saturday at 2 p.m. Eastern Time. This start time is more suitable for Nurmagomedov fans in Russia and the Republic of Dagestan, where he grew up. The pay-per-view also begins at 10 p.m. local time in Abu Dhabi, where Nurmagomedov defeated Poirier and where he trained for the fight.

“Apparently the people in the business don’t know, but Khabib is one of the biggest stars in the sport, not just the UFC,” White said at the press conference earlier this week. “I could just rattle numbers all day.”

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