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UFC 254 LIVE: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Justin Gaethje – latest updates

UFC 254 LIVE: Follow all the build-up as Justin Gaethje looks to topple undefeated champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in Abu Dhabi

  • UFC 254 main card gets underway in the US at 2pm ET and in the UK at 7pm
  • UK viewers can watch on BT Sport Box Office | US viewers on ESPN+
  • Latest UFC news, live action and results can be found right here

The wait is almost over as Justin Gaethje gets his opportunity to end Khabib Nurmagomedov’s undefeated fight record and claim the lightweight championship belt at UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi.

This will be the first time Khabib hasn’t be cornered by his father Abdulmanap Nurmagomeodv, who passed away in July as the Dagestan fighter looks to reach his father’s goal of 30-0 before potentially retiring.

His American opponent Gaethje will be hoping to avoid being taken down having only spent just 17 seconds on his back when he meets the Russian fighter who has a 50% takedown success rate. 

Follow Sportsmail’s Ollie Lewis who will provide live coverage of the fights in Abu Dhabi including post-fight reaction.

Host commentator

Khabib is relentless with his takedowns, but Gaethje has a surprisingly good record in stifling attempts to get him to the mat. 

Click HERE for the revealing stats behind the main event. 

The lightweight title fight will quite rightly attract all the attention, but there are plenty of intriguing match ups to look forward to tonight, including Robert Whittaker taking on Jarod Cannonier for a shot at Israel Adesanya’s middleweight crown.

Click HERE to read our main card preview. 

Main 

Khabib Nurmagomedov (c) vs. Justin Gaethje (ic) (lightweight)

Robert Whittaker vs. Jared Cannonier (middleweight)

Alexander Volkov vs. Walt Harris (heavyweight)

Magomed Ankalaev vs. Ion Cutelaba, (light heavyweight)

Jacob Malkoun vs. Phil Hawes, (middleweight)

Prelims 

Stefan Struve vs Tai Tuivasa (heavyweight)

Alex Oliveira vs Shavkat Rakhmonov (welterweight)

Da Un Jung vs Sam Alvey (light Heavyweight)

Early prelims 

Nathaniel Wood vs Casey Kenney (catchweight)

Liana Jojua vs Miranda Maverick (flyweight)

Joel Alvarez vs Alexander Yakovlev (lightweight)

Where is it?

The event is being held at the Flash Forum in on ‘Fight Island’ in Abu Dhabi, behind closed doors. 

How to watch?

The event will be shown exclusively live at 5pm (7pm main card) on Saturday 24 October on BT Sport Box Office HD and across their digital platforms.

BT Sport subscribers will be able to watch the prelims free of charge from 5pm before the pay-per-view main card begins later at 7pm. 

UFC 254: Khabib vs Gaethje costs on BT Sport Box Office and can be ordered today at bt.com/sportboxoffice. 

In the US the main card is available via pay-per-view on ESPN+, which also requires a subscription.

It’s finally here, Khabib Nurmagomedov defends his lightweight title against interim champion Justin Gaethje in just a few short hours at UFC 254.

It’s a slightly earlier start time than usual today, with the main event set to get under way at 10pm BST.

Stay tuned as we provide build up and fight commentary for all the action this evening from Fight Island.


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Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Justin Gaethje UK start time at UFC 254

Khabib Nurmagomedov puts his lightweight title on the line tonight as he takes on Justin Gaethje on Fight Island.

The Russian as amassed a record of 28-0 as a professional mixed martial artist and can take another step towards becoming the greatest of all time by beating Gaetje.

The American stunned Tony Ferguson earlier this year to set up his shot at Nurmagomedov and now aims to take full advantage of his unexpected opportunity.

The main event tops a stacked UFC 254 main card in the Middle East with Robert Whittaker and Jared Cannonier clashing in the co-main event to establish the next challenger for middleweight ruler Israel Adesanya.

Here is everything you need to know about tonight's fights in Abu Dhabi…

What time do the fights start?

The early prelim fights will start at 4pm UK time before the prelim fights kick off an hour later, at 5pm.

The six-fight main card begins at 7pm with the main event starting at around 10pm.

This is great news for British fight fans as recent Fight Island cards have taken place in the early hours of the morning.

What TV channel are they on?

The early prelim fights are only available on UFC Fight Pass which requires a subscription. Click here to sign up.

The prelim fights will be shown on BT Sport 2 from 5pm until 7pm before the action switches over to BT Sport Box Office for the main card.

Costing £19.95, you can order it by visiting the BT Sport Box office website here.

Is there a live stream?

The prelim fights can be streamed using the BT Sport player – if you are a BT Sport customer.

The main card – including Khabib vs Gaethje – can only be streamed via BT Sport Box Office in the UK.

You can purchase the fight using the link above and then watch on your computer or mobile device.

Full UFC 254 card

Main card

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Justin Gaethje

Robert Whittaker vs Jared Cannonier

Alexander Volkov vs Walt Harris

Jacob Malkoun vs Phil Hawes

Lauren Murphy vs Liliya Shakirova

Magomed Ankalaev vs Ion Cuțelaba

Preliminary card

Stefan Struve vs Tai Tuivasa

Nathaniel Wood vs Casey Kenney

Alex Oliveira vs Shavkat Rakhmonov

Da Un Jung vs Sam Alvey

Early preliminary card

Liana Jojua vs Miranda Maverick

Joel Alvarez vs Alexander Yakovlev

Odds

Unsurprisingly, Nurmagomedov is the favourite to prevail against Gaethje and retain his lightweight title.

Bookmakers bet365 have priced the champion at 2/7 while his challenger is 11/4. A draw is unlikely and has been priced up accordingly at 80/1.

Many fans believe Gaethje's best route to victory is via an early stoppage and he can be backed at 11/1 to win in the first round or 16/1 to win in the second.

Nurmagomedov is also favoured to win in the early rounds and is 9/2 to do so in either of the opening two sessions.

Click here to place your bets.

What they've said

Khabib: "With me, it’s going to be completely different. 

"He has to worry about takedowns, he was to worry about boxing, he has to worry about kicking, he has to worry about grappling, he has to worry about MMA.

"This is not a striking game. He has to worry about conditioning, he has to worry about my pressure. 

"I'm going to give him so much. He has to be ready.”

Gaethje: "I have a really, really good belief that’s he’s gonna have a really hard time putting me on the fence.

"I know I’m going to see his blood. I want him to see his blood and I want to see his reaction.

"I don’t think he’s as crazy as me, that’s the thing. I think he is crazy and loves competition, but he isn't quite as crazy as me.

"He also hasn't seen his blood as many times, I’m sure. His style of fighting is not something where you are looking for blood or anything like that.

"I bet that doesn't even cross his mind that he will see his own blood. That has never been a factor for him."

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UFC 254 purses: Khabib, Gaethje, Whittaker and more expected salaries

UFC 254 will be headlined by the lightweight title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje. Both fighters are in line to receive huge purses. The exact figures are not yet known and they are due to be confirmed after the UFC event on Fight Island.

However, some reports suggest Nurmagomedov will make £7.6m ($10m) from the bout with Gaethje.

And former star Daniel Cormier says earning such figure has been a longterm goal of the Russian’s.

“You know what [Khabib] told me one time, years ago, ‘Brother, I’m going to be world champion, and I’m going to fight for $10million every fight’,” Cormier told ESPN.

“I promise you. Years ago, and we all go, ‘No chance’. Because nobody was making $10million at the time.

“And I’m sure right now Khabib is fighting as the world champion at 28-0 for $10 million, straight.

“He sure doesn’t need the money, but he told me that, because he said it was going to change.

“He was going to be so big that things would change. And now, it has happened. He has done all the stuff he said he would do.”

Also on the card at UFC 254 is the clash between Robert Whittaker and Jared Cannonier.

While fans wait for the purses to be confirmed, Express Sport takes a look at some the previous salaries of the fighters.

Khabib Nurmagomedov last three purses

UFC 242: Gaethje vs Dustin Poirier – $6,000,000

UFC 229: Gaethje vs Conor McGregor – $2,000,000

UFC 223: Gaethje vs Al Iaquinta – $500,000

Justin Gaethje last three purses

UFC 249: Gaethje vs Tony Ferguson – $350,000

UFC Fight Night: Gaethje vs Donald Cerrone – $130,000

UFC Fight Night: Gaethje vs Edson Barboza – $120,000

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Robert Whittaker last three purses

UFC Fight Night: Whittaker vs Darren Till – $200,000

UFC 243: Whittaker vs Israel Adesanya – $400,000

UFC 225: Whittaker vs Yoel Romero – $400,000

Jared Cannonier last three purses

UFC Fight Night: Cannonier vs Jac Hermansson – $70,000

UFC 237: Cannonier vs Anderson Silva – $54,000

UFC 230: Cannonier vs David Branch – $52,000

Alexander Volkov last three purses

UFC Fight Night: Volkov vs Curtis Blaydes – $80,000

UFC Fight Night: Volkov vs Greg Hardy – $75,000

UFC 229: Volkov vs Derrick Lewis – $75,000

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Khabib plans Prem trip to watch Liverpool and Man City after UFC 254

Khabib Nurmagomedov ‘really wants to watch Liverpool and Manchester City’ on Premier League-inspired trip to England after UFC 254 title defence against Justin Gaethje

  • Khabib Nurmagomedov is huge football fan and wants to watch Premier League
  • Having cut weight ahead of UFC 254 Justin Gaethje clash, he admitted relief 
  • Russian is looking forward to time off and will travel to England after title fight 
  • He said: ‘I really want to watch a lot of games, Liverpool, Manchester City’

Khabib Nurmagomedov plans on jetting over to England to watch some Premier League games after his UFC 254 showdown with Justin Gaethje. 

The lightweight champion successfully tipped the scales at 155-pounds on Friday to overcome the final hurdle before fight night but is already planning so much-needed time off after Saturday’s main event. 

He told BT Sport: ‘After this fight I’m going to travel a lot, come to London. I really want to watch a lot of games, Manchester, Liverpool, Manchester City, I really want to come. 

Khabib Nurmagomedov is planning on visiting England to watch some Premier League games

Anfield is one of the places Khabib wants to watch a game if possible this year 

‘I know they have great stadiums with big, big, big history, I know without crowds but we will see. In November they have great matches so see you there.’

Khabib is a huge football fan and supports Real Madrid but has a soft spot for Liverpool. 

Last year he told BT Sport: ‘I like Liverpool. I remember when I was a kid in 2005 when I watched Liverpool versus Milan, in Dagestan. We had a big screen TV on the beach, thousands of people [were] watching this match. 

‘And when they were losing after the first half 3-0, and I really believed, ‘They have to come back, they have to come back’ because I liked the team. “It was Milan Baros, [Vladimir] Smicer, [John Arne] Riise, [Sami] Hyypia. I remember this. Stevie Gerrard! 

‘It was a very good team, but right now they have a very good team too. I watch all the Champions League matches and Liverpool. But I’m a big fan of Real Madrid.’

‘But I like English Premier League, even if the worst teams are playing, they have the best games.’

For now though, Khabib’s focus will be on the task at hand, attempting to defend his title and move to 29-0. 

The wait is almost over for Saturday night’s highly-anticipated main event showdown

He admitted the weight cut was arduous, saying: ‘It was a hard night like always when I’m cutting weight. It is never going to be easy. Even if you cut a couple of pounds or 20 pounds, it will be the same. Cutting weight is always hard. 

‘Last time I made weight I went first, this time I made weight and went first, when you’re a champion you have to show great example. I want to be first everywhere. If I do push-ups with my team-mates, running up a mountain, I want to be first always.’  

And his gameplan remains the same, to maul Gaethje as he’s done to every other opponent: ‘Nothing has changed, I just want to make this guy tired and finish him,’ he concluded. 




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Harlem Eubank added to The Golden Contract show on December 2

Harlem Eubank faces Daniel Egbunike in a battle of unbeaten super-lightweight contenders on finals night of the Golden Contract on December 2.

Sky customers: Buy Usyk v Chisora
Non-Sky customers: Buy Usyk v Chisora

Ryan Walsh takes on Jazza Dickens in the featherweight finale, while Ricards Bolotniks clashes with Serge Michel in the conclusion of the light-heavyweight tournament as the Golden Contract reaches a thrilling ending at Production Park Studios in Wakefield, live on Sky Sports.

On the same night, Eubank risks his perfect 10-fight record against Egbunike, nicknamed ‘Danny Darko’, who has racked up six successive victories.

“I’m very pleased to be straight back into another big fight,” said Eubank. “I think being active means people will really see the best of me as I continue to progress.

“I was happy with how my fight against Martin McDonagh played out. There were still a lot of aspects of my game that I didn’t show, and I’m looking forward to implementing those other details.”

Egbunike said: “I’m really excited. This is what my career has been about. I had three warm up fights with journeymen and then I’ve been in big fights. I don’t see myself turning back any time soon. It will be step up after step up and I’m really looking forward to this fight.

“I can’t wait to pick up from where I left off. I’ve met Eubank once in the gym and he’s a respectable guy, I saw his fight with Martin McDonagh, and I’m expecting a good fight here.

“The reason I keep stepping up is I want to see how good I actually am. I’m not going backwards with my opponents, I’m going forward and fighting better and better each time. I think this fight will be fireworks, so I hope my expectations are met.”

Promoter Lee Eaton added: “We’re delighted to add this fantastic fight between Daniel Egbunike and Harlem Eubank to The Golden Contract card. Both fighters are unbeaten, so it’s a testament to each of them that they’re willing to step up and put their records on the line.

“We’ve seen them both involved in some very entertaining fights in their careers and I’m expecting another one here. This fight along with the other two fantastic Golden Contract finals means it’s going to be yet another can’t miss event.”

Sky Sports schedule

Usyk vs Chisora – Oct 31, live on Sky Sports Box Office
Oleksandr Usyk vs Derek Chisora
Savannah Marshall vs Hannah Rankin
Lee Selby vs George Kambosos Jr
Dave Allen
Tommy McCarthy vs Bilal Laggoune
Amy Timlin vs Carly Skelly

Taylor vs Gutierrez – Nov 14, live on Sky Sports
Katie Taylor vs Miriam Gutierrez
Terri Harper vs Katharina Thanderz
Rachel Ball vs Ebanie Bridges
Jamie Cox vs Jack Cullen
John Docherty vs Jack Arnfield
Thomas Whittaker-Hart

Povetkin vs Whyte 2 – Nov 21, live on Sky Sports Box Office
Alexander Povetkin vs Dillian Whyte
Conor Benn vs Sebastian Formella
Chris Billam-Smith vs Deion Jumah

The Golden Contract – Dec 2, live on Sky Sports
Ryan Walsh vs Jazza Dickens
Ricards Bolotniks vs Serge Michel
Harlem Eubank vs Daniel Egbunike

Joshua vs Pulev – Dec 12, live on Sky Sports Box Office
Anthony Joshua vs Kubrat Pulev

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Dana White reveals Tyron Woodley is hardest star he's had to deal with

UFC chief Dana White reveals Conor McGregor is NOT the most difficult star he’s had to work with as dealing with Tyron Woodley is like ‘pulling teeth’ and ‘always about something else other than the fight’

  • Dana White says Tyron Woodley is the most difficult star he’s had to deal with 
  • White has previously accused Woodley of holding up the welterweight division
  • The UFC chief recently suggested Woodley should retire after his latest defeat
  • White has also had run-ins with other UFC stars including Conor McGregor 

Dana White has claimed working with UFC star Tyron Woodley is like ‘pulling teeth’ and named the former welterweight champion as the most difficult fighter he’s ever dealt with.

UFC president White has long had a strained relationship with Woodley. He previously accused him of holding up the welterweight division and recently suggested he should retire. 

Speaking to reporters ahead of this weekend’s UFC 254, White, who has had several run-ins with the UFC’s Irish star Conor McGregor over the years, said: ‘I would say the hardest kid that I ever dealt with, and everybody thinks that I don’t like him, it has to be [Tyron] Woodley.

UFC president Dana White has named Tyron Woodley as the hardest star he’s had to deal with

The UFC chief has previously accused the 38-year-old of holding up the welterweight division 

‘Woodley’s the hardest kid I’ve ever dealt with. I look at what he could have done and what he should have done.’

‘Good-looking kid, physique, the whole thing, becomes a world champion, has that knockout power, has all the tools and everything else, but it’s just always pulling teeth with him and it’s always about something else other than the fight.’

Woodley won the welterweight division in 2016 and defended his title three times before losing out to Kamaru Usman in March 2019.

White also suggested Woodley should retire after breaking a rib against Colby Covington 

He has since been defeated by Gilbert Burns and most recently Colby Covington at UFC Vegas 11.

Ahead of his fight with Covington, Woodley made a statement at his press conference by answering ‘Black Lives Matter’ to every question. 

White organised separate press conferences for Woodley and Covington, who has previously shared his support for American president Donald Trump. 

Woodley also wore a Black Lives Matter t-shirt and a hat with the words ‘Make Racists Catch the Fade Again’, in the same style as the ‘Make America Great’ cap made famous by Trump. 

He answered Black Lives Matter to every question in his press conference before facing Covington, who has previously aired his support of American president Donald Trump

The 38-year-old suffered a broken rib in his bout with Covington and White suggested he should start thinking about retirement. 

‘I think that he should start thinking about hanging it up,’ White said following the bout.

‘He’s had a great career. He’s had a great run. He’s made his money.’

But Woodley said he would not be retiring and insisted he would not make changes to his game.  

Woodley is not the only UFC fighter White has had run-ins with. Most notably, White has clashed with Conor McGregor on several occasions in recent years.

White also had run-ins with Conor McGregor and recently accused him of breaking ‘man code’

White suggested McGregor tried to take the spotlight away from Israel Adesanya before his UFC 253 fight with Paulo Costa after he announced he would be fighting Manny Pacquiao in a charity boxing match.

McGregor had also leaked private messages between himself and the UFC president which showed them discussing possible fights for the Irishman.

White accused McGregor of breaking ‘man code’ by leaking their conversation.

UFC 254 takes place on ‘Fight Island’ on Saturday with Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje the headline fight.




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Usyk vs Chisora: Alexander Povetkin hit Derek Chisora with same uppercut that knocked out Dillian Whyte, says David Haye

Dillian Whyte was not caught by a ‘lucky punch’ from Alexander Povetkin, who had hit Derek Chisora with the same brutal uppercut in sparring, says David Haye.

The British heavyweight rivals are preparing for career-changing fights as Chisora collides with Oleksandr Usyk on October 31, while Whyte battles Povetkin in a rematch on November 21, both live on Sky Sports Box Office.

Chisora has sparred with Povetkin in the past and was not surprised that he delivered a fight-ending uppercut on Whyte, says manager Haye, who insists the Brixton man did not just pay the price for a momentary lapse.

A post shared by Derek Chisora 🥊 (@derekwarchisora) on

Asked about Povetkin-Whyte 2, Haye told Sky Sports: “It’s a very dangerous fight and it’s a fight that I think Dillian doesn’t want to accept it was nothing other than a lucky punch.

“He thought, ‘I was winning the fight’, which he was, ‘I had him knocked down twice in the fourth round and I was winning the fifth round until I got hit by one shot and that was it’. Anything can happen in boxing, it happens in the heavyweight division.

“I don’t think that’s the mindset you need. You can’t say, ‘You won because it was an anomaly’. That left uppercut that he threw knocked out Carlos Takam, in a very even fight, in a very good toe-to-toe fight.

💥1 month to go until @DillianWhyte gets his shot at revenge 🥊

📺 November 21, live on Sky Sports Box Office pic.twitter.com/qwOFCcvxiK

“It’s a shot that he throws regularly. Derek was telling me when he sparred with him, he was getting hit with that shot, so it’s one of his shots, and to get hit with someone’s best shot isn’t very lucky is it.

“The guy has got a big shot. It’s like getting caught with Dillian Whyte’s left hook. You know it’s there if you can practise to go under it, if you throw your right hook to the body or not, or you can stand up and get knocked out.”

But Haye has backed Whyte to defeat Povetkin in the rematch, if he makes the necessary tactical changes, just as Anthony Joshua did in his return bout with Andy Ruiz Jr last December.

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November 21st don’t blink #maximumviolence .

A post shared by Dillian Whyte (@dillianwhyte) on

November 21st don’t blink #maximumviolence .

A post shared by Dillian Whyte (@dillianwhyte) on

“I think he’ll win the rematch. I think he’s too fresh,” said Haye.

“He needs to make sure the issue that he had in that Povetkin fight doesn’t happen again and he can prove that, the same way that AJ did against Andy Ruiz Jr.

“You can learn. He didn’t have a deep wealth of amateur pedigree. He comes from a kickboxing background, a few amateur fights, and then he jumped straight into the pros and had to do it the hard way.

“He’s a seasoned guy, but he doesn’t have the technical pedigree that Anthony Joshua has – an Olympic gold medal. Povetkin is another Olympic gold medallist, so he needs to use his attributes which is rough, tough, physical.

“He was trying to get too close and have a technical back and forth and I’m like, ‘Why do you need to do that for?’ Why don’t you do what you do best and that’s hit people with jabs and throw big, massive left hooks that knock people out?”

The heavyweight division serving up some 🔥from now until Christmas 🥊

Whyte has previously confirmed that he intends to make technical adjustments to nullify Povetkin’s uppercut but remains confident he will avenge his loss.

“Credit due to Povetkin, fair play to him, he threw a good punch and it landed and what more can I say,” Whyte told Sky Sports earlier this month.

“Now we go into camp, we put it right, we come back again. I believe I beat Povetkin nine times out of 10.”

Watch Oleksandr Usyk vs Derek Chisora is on October 31, live on Sky Sports Box Office.

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Conor McGregor vs Dustin Poirier 2 update issued by Dana White ahead of UFC 254

Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier have yet to sign contracts for their eagerly-anticipated rematch, UFC president Dana White has revealed. The former featherweight rivals agreed to have a charity match late last month on Twitter, which prompted the UFC to offer them a rematch inside the confines of the Octagon.

Both men accepted the offer, although McGregor initially demanded his second meeting with ‘The Diamond’ take place before year’s end.

The Irishman eventually softened his stance, agreeing to throw down with the former interim lightweight champion at UFC 257 on January 23.

Although both men have publicly agreed to share the cage again, they’ve yet to sign any bout agreements.

“We’ve offered the fight and we got him his own date,” White told BT Sport. “That date didn’t exist. We worked with ESPN, we got him his own date. And we’ve offered them the fight. I know contracts haven’t been signed yet.”

JUST IN: UFC 254: GSP expects McGregor to be offered Khabib fight ahead of him

I know contracts haven’t been signed yet

Dana White on Conor McGregor vs Dustin Poirier II

Despite the hold-up, White fully expects McGregor to honour his word and make the walk to the cage on January 23.

He added: “Conor’s never – listen, Conor likes to play games, okay? Conor plays games and he does his thing.

“One thing Conor doesn’t do; Conor doesn’t commit to a fight and then not fight. Conor fights.

“Things are gonna change now. This isn’t the same Conor McGregor, you know, back in the day. Conor is rich, Conor is very wealthy.

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Dustin Poirier responds to Conor McGregor publicly accepting rematch

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Conor McGregor accepts Dustin Poirier rematch, eyes late 2020 return

“And I think that Conor is in a position right now where he’s just trying to make moves that he thinks, you know, are right. We’ll see, we’ll see how this whole thing plays out.”

Late last week, McGregor’s head coach – John Kavanagh – suggested the former two-division champion’s rematch with Poirier would be a welterweight bout.

White, however, is adamant the contest will be a lightweight affair.

“It’s 155lbs,” White said of McGregor vs Poirier II. “I’m not putting on a multi-million-dollar fight at a catchweight.

“This fight means nothing at 170lb, neither are ranked at 170 and it doesn’t do anything in the 155lb division if either one of them wins because they’re fighting at 170lb.

“It makes no sense; there are plenty of organisations who put on fights that make no sense, you can go watch those fights every weekend, that’s not what we do here.”

Should McGregor and Poirier sign on the dotted line, their meeting will be a rematch of their UFC 178 showdown, which took place six years ago at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

That night was a short one at the office for ‘The Notorious’, who announced himself as a legitimate featherweight title contender with an emphatic first-round TKO victory.

Former featherweight and lightweight champion McGregor, 32, hasn’t fought since his 40-second annihilation of Donald Cerrone in January.

Fan favourite Poirier, meanwhile, hasn’t competed since his gruelling five-round war with Dan Hooker in July, which he won via unanimous decision.

UFC 257 has yet to be officially announced, although mixed martial arts’ premier promotion is set to reveal their 2021 schedule in the coming weeks.

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From wrestling bears to beating the best in the world: The journey that took Khabib to MMA greatness

With the belt vacated by an absent, boxing McGregor, Nurmagomedov was set to take on interim champion Ferguson, but the hugely-anticipated bout fell through – not for the first time, and not for the last. Then-featherweight titleholder Max Holloway was briefly a replacement for Ferguson, but UFC doctors would not let the Hawaiian compete due to issues around his weight cut, so Iaquinta became the most unlikely of reserves.

In truth, Nurmagomedov played with the New Yorker in Brooklyn, seemingly spending more time on his feet than he had done in any of his previous contests in an attempt to test out the tools he had been trying to sharpen since his last performance. While not exactly lascerating, Khabib’s striking was better than in prior outings, a stiff jab the most notable addition – in the long run, another means of pressuring the opponent to the fence.

Nurmagomedov eased to a decision victory, but the most talked about moment of the weekend was McGregor’s unexpected arrival, which saw the not-as-absent-as-previously-mentioned Irishman launch a railing at a UFC bus with numerous fighters onboard, injuring more than one of them. His target was Khabib, who had previously confronted McGregor’s team-mate Artem Lobov at a hotel.

The rivalry intensified from that moment, leading to a title bout between the two in October of that year. Nurmagomedov’s religion and politics were among the topics on which McGregor chose to spit in his efforts to rile up the Russian, but Khabib remained composed in the Octagon come fight night, dominating McGregor for periods of the main event – though McGregor became the first man ever to take a round from Nurmagomedov – before finishing ‘Notorious’ in the fourth round with a rear naked choke.

Nurmagomedov’s composure did not endure beyond the final buzzer, however, with ‘The Eagle’ taking flight as he launched himself over the Octagon fence and into the crowd to confront another of McGregor’s team-mates, Dillon Danis, igniting a mass brawl in the process.

Although the victory set up a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin, Khabib was scolded by his father for the example he set with such an assaultive post-fight action – one that led to a nine-month ban and hefty fine – and has since doubled down on his emphasis on respect. The champion even insisted on sitting out for a further three months until his team-mates’ year-long bans – administered for their roles in the ruckus – had been served.

Twelve months on, Nurmagomedov handily defeated interim champion Poirier in Abu Dhabi to retain his belt, and another 12 months on, he is again set to fight an interim champion in Abu Dhabi.

Standing across from him this weekend will be Gaethje, a former World Series of Fighting lightweight champion with a professional MMA record of 22-2.

Gaethje has finished 20 of the 22 men he has defeated, knocking out 19 of them. In his last fight, he stunned fans of the sport by dismantling Tony Ferguson for the best part of five rounds, leading the referee to step in and proving that ‘The Highlight’s transition from a masochistic brawler to a refined, intelligent striker was complete.

And while Gaethje’s legitimate wrestling credentials are shockingly underused – the American still enjoys striking too much to use his wrestling for anything other than defence, though that might be all that is required against Khabib – make no mistake, they will be with him on Yas Island, as will Trevor Wittman, one of the best coaches around.

Gaethje undoubtedly marks the sternest test that Nurmagomedov has faced in his MMA career, and – while the above text goes some way to explaining who Khabib is – beating ‘The Highlight’ would further define ‘The Eagle’ and his place in the sport: as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of all time.

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Fighting

Tyson Fury has two-man shortlist for December homecoming fight

Tyson Fury is set to chose either Carlos Takam or Agit Kabayel for his homecoming fight on December 5.

The heavyweight world champion has abandoned plans to fight Deontay Wilder for a third time after a date in 2020 was unable to be agreed.

Instead Fury will headline a card at the Royal Albert Hall in London in his first fight in the UK for more than two years.

He must take on a fighter ranked in the top 15 by the WBC and Takam and Kabayel have emerged as the frontruners.

Fury's promoter Bob Arum told Boxing Scene: "He’s deciding on an opponent.

“I’m not doing a bus boy. Fury should beat Takam but Takam is at least known and he has been on ESPN.

"And he looked pretty good in the last fight. The other guy (Kabayel) is undefeated and he has fought some fairly decent guys. I haven't come up with anybody else."

Neither Takam nor Kabayel are strangers to British boxing fans with the former suffering back-to-back defeats by Anthony Joshua and Dereck Chisora in 2017 and 2018.

He has since strung four victories together however, most recently outpointing Jerry Forrest this summer.

Kabayel meanwhile is unbeaten in 20 fights and beat Chisora in 2017 to successfully defend his European title.

Fury confirmed he was moving on from his trilogy fight with Wilder earlier this month.

He said: “I was looking forward to smashing Wilder again; quick and easy fight.

"But Wilder and his team were messing around with the date. They don’t really want to fight the lineal heavyweight champion. They know how it ends.

"The world knows how it will end: with Wilder on his ass again.

"Then they asked me if I would agree to push it to December. I agreed to December 19.

"Then they tried to change the date again into next year [but] I've been training; I’m ready.

"When they tried moving off Dec. 19 and pushing to next year, enough was enough. I’ve moved on."

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