Khabib: ‘We need a unification’ vs. Gaethje
The lightweight unification bout between champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim champion Justin Gaethje will be the main event of UFC 255 on Oct. 24 at a location to be determined, UFC president Dana White confirmed.
Ali Abdelaziz, who manages both Nurmagomedov and Gaethje, said Oct. 24 was the date that Nurmagomedov preferred. The fight was originally slated to be Sept. 19, but when Nurmagomedov’s father, Abdulmanap, died from complications relating to COVID-19, White left Nurmagomedov alone to grieve.
He said when Nurmagomedov wanted to return, he’d let the UFC know. Last week, Nurmagomedov tweeted about his father, his first public comments since Abdulmanap’s death on July 3.
“Dana didn’t pressure him at all and handled the situation very gently,” Abdelaziz told Yahoo Sports. “Khabib said Oct. 24 would be a great date so Dana did what he does and he got it done.”
Gaethje’s style is perhaps the most suited to take on Nurmagomedov’s world-class grappling. Gaethje won the interim championship at UFC 249 on May 9 when he stopped Tony Ferguson in the fifth round of a major upset.
Abdelaziz said Nurmagomedov recognized the need to fight Gaethje.
“He understands Justin is the best in the world right now,” Abdelaziz said. “He said, ‘We need a unification, the best against the best.’ There is no drama here. It’s just two great fighters going at it. It’s a relief when you have the best fighting each other and this is definitely No. 1 versus No. 2. Justin has been respectful to Khabib, but he didn’t want to fight anyone else because he knows Khabib is the best and he wanted to prove himself against the best there is.”
White confirmed the news to CNN first.
“It’s going to happen; I will tell you right here, right now,” White told CNN. “That fight’s going to happen: Khabib vs. Gaethje, Oct. 24.”
Chimaev on the road to stardom
Welterweight Khamzat Chimaev’s emergence is probably the biggest story to come out of the UFC’s month on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. Unknown to all but the most hardcore MMA fans in the U.S. before Fight Island, Chimaev (8-0, 5 KOs) has quickly become the talk of the sport.
He defeated John Phillips (22-10) in a middleweight bout by second-round submission on July 15 and then 10 days later in a welterweight bout, stopped Rhys McKee (10-3-1). In the process, he racked up a 192-2 advantage in strikes landed.
White told Yahoo Sports on Saturday that Chimaev wanted to fight at UFC 252 on Aug. 15 in Las Vegas and he’s agreed to grant that request. That will give Chimaev three fights in a month.
“When you have a kid that’s badass and wants to keep fighting, you do it,” White said. “Guys in the old days would fight every weekend. That’s why they had such huge records.”
The question is how big of a leap in competition does the UFC give Chimaev at UFC 252. His grappling is so good, he’s going to have to face someone who will be able to defend the takedown. And if he fights a good striker, we’ll get a chance to see how good Chimaev really is on his feet.
Nurmagomedov’s greatness is borne of the fact that his grappling is his strong suit, but his striking is above average and good enough to force opponents to respect it and not just concentrate on the ground.
That’s yet to be seen with Chimaev, who told Yahoo Sports that anyone who doubts his striking is in for a surprise.
“Believe me, brother, this is MMA and you have to be able to do everything,” Chimaev said. “Whatever I need to do to smash these guys, I can do it. Striking? No problem. You’ll see. I’ll smash all of these guys when I get the chance.”
The UFC doesn’t like to do immediate rematches as a rule, let alone have two fighters fight three times in a row. But White said to ESPN’s Brett Okamoto on Monday that he’s considering doing it with featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski and former champion Max Holloway.
Volkanovski lifted the belt from Holloway in a close decision on Dec. 14 in Las Vegas at UFC 245. Volkanovski retained it in another razor-thin decision many thought Holloway won on July 11 at UFC 251 on Fight Island.
The featherweight division is the deepest in the sport, but White plans to pit No. 2 Zabit Magomedsharipov against No. 5 Yair Rodriguez and No. 3 Brian Ortega against No. 4 Chan Sung Jung.
That leaves Volkanovski, No. 1 Holloway and No. 6 Calvin Kattar without fights.
“Calvin Kattar just fought,” White told ESPN. “Yair Rodriguez has a fight coming up. ‘Zombie’ has a fight coming up. Ortega and Zabit, all of these guys are going to fight in the next couple of months here. We’ll see how that all plays out. It’s hard to not say we can give Max a rematch for that fight again, do it a third time. I think all of the fans and the media would agree with that. I don’t know for sure.”
Till may need knee surgery
Middleweight Darren Till said at the post-fight news conference in Abu Dhabi following his close loss to ex-champion Robert Whittaker that he injured his knee in the second round and may need surgery.
Till said it happened when Whittaker stomped on his knee.
“I’m probably going to get a little bit of surgery now,” he said. “That’s nothing. I want to get back in the gym. Fix that knee, get back in the gym and there’s millions of fights out there for me. I’m one of the top guys in this organization and I’m going to continue to be.”
Chandler-Henderson to meet at Bellator 243
Bellator announced that its former lightweight champion Michael Chandler would meet ex-UFC and WEC lightweight champion Benson Henderson on Aug. 7 in the main event of Bellator 243 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
Chandler won a split decision over Henderson for the Bellator title at Bellator 165 on Nov. 19, 2016.
He said it
“There’s a fight (Francisco Trinaldo versus Jai Herbert) that some people said could have been stopped earlier, [and maybe] think it was stopped late. By no means was that a late stoppage. Anyone who believes or not is maybe just following because someone with a microphone says it’s a [bad] stoppage. But if you know anything about fighting, a fighter [Herbert] got hurt, fighters get rocked all the time but we’re looking at his actions. He’s tracking his opponent. He knows where his opponent is. He’s put both arms in between him and his opponent. He’s lifted his leg up, head off the mat. He’s doing everything I can ask for him to do to stay in that fight. That wasn’t a bad stoppage.” — Referee Herb Dean on Instagram referring to criticism of UFC analyst Dan Hardy of his handling of the Trinaldo-Herbert and Tanner Boser-Raphael Pessoa fights.
More from Yahoo Sports: