Among my favorite things anyone has said in the buildup to the UFC 254 primary event that weekend came in Khabib Nurmagomedov because he was talking about being on”Fight Isle.”Nurmagomedov (28-0, 12-0 in the UFC) will be looking to combine his lightweight championship against interim belt holder Justin Gaethje (22-2, 5-2 UFC) on Saturday at Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates — at an event which will occur in the day, U.S. time (pay-per-view principal card at two pm ET).

In a recent interview with ESPN, the champ essentially summarized all of the reasons why he should not function there. Those included COVID-19 analyzing, weight cutting, interviews, and stress. Frankly, a lot of stuff he could do without.”Why I come here?” Nurmagomedov explained. “Everything that’s happened the last four months, everything going on with COVID, why I want this fight? I already one of the most significant, one of the greatest fighters of all time.

I’ve got the cash. I have a title. I’ve business. I’ve got family, children. I’ve everything. The reason why I won’t struggle?”I have only 1 thing why I am here. I really wish to compete with high tech fighters on earth.

Justin Gaethje, now, interim winner, a lot of people talk he can beat me. OK, that’s why I come hereafter what happened last four weeks.“Yes, Nurmagomedov is the undefeated champion, the one looking to move to 29-0 this weekend and after that, possibly, 30-0 before retirement. Everybody loses in MMA — that is exactly what we always say.

It is virtually impossible to walk away from the highest level with a perfect album. But Nurmagomedov is challenging that assertion, which makes every one of his fights significant.

In a very major way, however, this fight at UFC 254 feels massive also because of Gaethje. Who’d have ever thought, at the beginning of 2020, we could move on from a canceled fight between Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson and never look back? We had waited five years for this Ferguson struggle, which was reserved five times, and it never occurred. But we’re OK with it due to what Gaethje didn’t Ferguson back in May.

Poor blood may not have attracted Nurmagomedov straight back to the Octagon in 2020 after the passing of his dad. The money wouldn’t have drawn Nurmagomedov straight back into the Octagon. Justin Gaethje did, since Nurmagomedov perceives Justin Gaethje as a true threat.And by the way, don’t forget that Gaethje nixed the idea of combating Conor McGregor this summer as a name fight against Nurmagomedov was much more significant to him. How about this? Just about every fighter on the planet would love to confront McGregor, except the two that are combating this particular weekend, both Nurmagomedov and Gaethje.In a sport that is driven by storylines, rivalries, and often the”money struggle,” this principal occasion feels almost wholesome in away. And of course, refreshing.

By the numbers

0: Gaethje fights in the UFC who have ended in any result other than a KO/TKO. He has knocked out five competitors and been KO’d from another two. The five knockouts leave Gaethje two behind the busy leader one of the lightweights, Edson Barboza (a Gaethje KO sufferer, by the way). Gaethje has had seven UFC bouts, Barboza 24.

57: Takedowns from the lightweight division by Nurmagomedov, the most among active UFC 155-pounders. And also the champ does something with these takedowns. He has landed 308 ground strikes during his UFC career, the most ever by a lightweight.

12: UFC victories for its unbeaten Nurmagomedov. A win Saturday would put him in a tie with Jon Jones, Demetrious Johnson, and Max Holloway for the second-most all-time, supporting Anderson Silva (16).

7.74: Substantial strikes landed per minute by Gaethje, the most in UFC history. And the challenger is true, too, landing 59.2% of his efforts, best ever for a lightweight. That precision is significant from a forward-moving takedown machine such as Nurmagomedov. A swing and miss can lead to Gaethje being taken to the canvas and smothered for the rest of the round, or even worse.

17: Seconds that Gaethje has spent bottom position throughout his seven UFC fights (two takedowns). That’s only 0.4% of his complete fight time, providing him the third-smallest percentage of bottom position time in lightweight history. Gaethje’s takedown defense and ability to scramble back to his feet will be tested early and often Saturday.

  • The most important number of all for MMA fans:
  • UFC 254’s unusual morning start time — don’t miss it

11:Morning kickoff (ET) for ancient prelims on ESPN+, using more prelims at noon on ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, and ESPN+, followed by the six-fight main card at two p.m. on pay-per-view