What to know

When: Saturday. Preparations begin at 11 a.m. east. The main card starts at 2 p.m.

How to Watch: Coverage on ESPN Plus starts at 11am and continues at 12pm on ESPN2, ESPN Deportes and ESPN Plus. The primary card is available on ESPN Plus pay-per-view for $ 64.99 for current subscribers.

Where: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on “Fight Island”

“It’s not one of those fights where these two have to yell at each other and do all these things,” White said at a news conference. “People know who these two guys are. You know what they’re both capable of, and that’s why this fight is so great. This thing was by far the biggest we’ve ever done. “

Nurmagomedov’s social media presence underscores his wild popularity: he has 22.1 million followers on Instagram and 1.1 million followers on Twitter, and content featured on Facebook has generated 100 million views. The Russian is also easily the most-played character in the UFC video game, noted White.

Nurmagomedov (28-0 in all MMA competitions, 12-0 in UFC) has won ten times by submission and eight times by knockout on the way to the longest active undefeated series in the sport and the UFC lightweight championship.

Nurmagomedov has not fought since September 2019 when he defeated Dustin Poirier by submission. His father and coach, Abdulmanap, died in July of a heart problem complicated by Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

“It’s always difficult when you’re struggling when you’re losing weight when you have so much pressure on your shoulders,” Nurmagomedov told reporters. “It’s never easy. Now is a special time for me to struggle with all these pandemics here in Abu Dhabi, with no crowds, no fans. I think it’s really difficult. “

31-year-old Gaethje is perhaps Nurmagomedov’s most intriguing opponent as he has an excellent amateur wrestling background, one-punch knockout power, and practically unmatched physicality in the octagon.

The American (22-2, 5-2) with 19 knockouts joined UFC in 2017 after 17 fights in the World Series of Fighting, where he won the lightweight championship. Gaethje won five title defenses before clearing the belt when he signed with UFC.

“I’m an actor,” Gaethje told reporters. “I always appear under the light. That’s what I do. I’ve been doing this for so long [Nurmagomedov] Has. It’s rooted in us, and on Saturday evening I’ll leave everything, give everything and be proud of my performance. “

Although Gaethje is an all-American wrestler in northern Colorado and a two-time Arizona state champion in high school, he climbed the ranks of the UFC by fighting on his feet rather than bringing his opponent to the ground – which Nurmagomedov prefers when he moves judo and sambo, a Russian wrestling style.

Gaethje’s style has made him one of the most entertaining mixed martial artists in the world, and he’s seen as extremely fan-friendly by industry figures including White.

“What makes this fight so big is that people think their kid has the style to beat [Nurmagomedov]”White said.” So you have all the ingredients for a massive fight. “