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UFC 254: Khabib close to ‘GOAT’ status: Dana White

UFC 254: Khabib close to ‘GOAT’ status: Dana White
Nurmagomedov has a 28-0 record in mixed martial arts and has been UFC lightweight champion since April 2018.
ABU DHABI, OCT 23 (AGENCIES) | Publish Date: 10/23/2020 12:42:30 PM IST

Khabib Nurmagomedov will be close to becoming the greatest MMA fighter of all time if he wins at UFC 254, says UFC president Dana White,.

The undefeated lightweight champion faces interim champion Justin Gaethje in a unification bout on Saturday, reports BBC Sports.

The Russian, 32, has a 28-0 record before facing the 31-year-old American, who is 22-2, on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island.

“Khabib’s a big superstar,” said White. “But if he beats Justin, he’s on his way to GOAT status.”

White added: “He’s looking down the barrel of not only being the greatest to ever do it in this division but being the number one pound-for-pound fighter in the world.”

Nurmagomedov has hinted at retiring if he reaches a 30-0 record and, asked at the pre-fight press conference about achieving the same status as boxing greats Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson, he said: “I don’t know if I can ever become close to these people.

“I didn’t have this goal, I just want to win every fight. We’ll see in the future because I’m not finished yet. When I retire, I want to retire [as the] undisputed, undefeated UFC lightweight champion.”

This fight will be Nurmagomedov’s first without his father and coach Abdulmanap in his corner after he died in July, aged 57, following complications caused by coronavirus.

“The most important thing for me is to stay close with your family and friends, because today you’re champion, tomorrow everything can change,” said Khabib.

“I’m so proud of these things because I think I was a good kid for my parents.”

Khabib was also asked specifically about an animation paying tribute to his father and charting his journey from wrestling bears as a child. He replied: “A lot of people have sent me the video. It’s a great video, I really like it.”

After beating Dustin Poirier last September, Nurmagomedov was due to face Tony Ferguson in April, but the long-awaited match-up was cancelled for a fifth time because of coronavirus travel restrictions.

Gaethje then stepped in to fight Ferguson at UFC 249 and produced the best performance of his career to become the interim lightweight champion.

“I’m not even supposed to be here, this was supposed to be Tony Ferguson,” said Gaethje. “I got that opportunity and I took it from him.

“I’m a performer, I always show up under the lights. That’s what I do. On Saturday I will leave everything, give everything, and be proud of my performance.”

Nurmagomedov is renowned for his wrestling skills, which have stifled and gradually broken down his previous 28 opponents.

Gaethje was an All-American wrestler in college so is confident of defending takedowns but also possesses devastating punching power, winning his last four fights by knockout.

He has earned nine bonuses from his seven UFC fights - for Performance or Fight of the Night - and UFC has billed this bout as ‘the most dominant versus the most violent’. “More than Conor [McGregor] and Dustin and other guys, he knows how to wrestle, but what about wrestling for 25 minutes?” asked Nurmagomedov.

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