As the COVID-19 pandemic threw the world into chaos, and the UFC along with it, lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov returned home to Russia to be with his family while the promotion worked out where the event would be held. As travel restrictions tightened, Nurmagomedov was forced out of his bout with Tony Ferguson, allowing Justin Gaethje to step in and win the interim title. Now, with the pandemic still ravaging the United States, Nurmagomedov will not return to America to train for his UFC 254 unification bout with Gaethje.
Gaethje and Nurmagomedov are set to battle on Oct. 24., though the location for their fight has not been announced. But the champion has no intention of training at his normal base of American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California, according to coach Javier Mendez.
“We’ve got two choices [for the fight], right? Las Vegas or Fight Island,'” Mendez told ESPN. “I’m thinking Fight Island, but they haven’t said it yet. What I do know is that [COVID-19] is too high in California, and Khabib is not comfortable coming here to train.”
Nurmagomedov’s father and coach, Abdulmanap, died in July after a battle with the virus, something that may have contributed to the champion’s decision to avoid a high-risk country like the United States.
Much of the recent conversation surrounding Nurmagomedov has been the long-standing plan for him to retire at 30-0. With a current 28-0 record, Nurmagomedov’s plan includes beating Gaethje in their unification fight and then a dream fight Georges St-Pierre, the former welterweight and middleweight champion who has only fought once since 2013.
“It was discussed on numerous occasions — 30-0,” Mendez said. “And GSP was definitely the legacy fight. If they can complete that, I could see 30-0 and he’s done. I can definitely see that. That conversation was brought up numerous times while I was with [Khabib and his father].”
UFC president Dana White recently stated that he would be open to Nurmagomedov picking his own final fight, mentioning the idea of a rematch with Conor McGregor, but also seeming open to a fight with St-Pierre.
“At the end of the day, the Conor McGregor [rematch], I know Conor has wanted that fight since the last one [in October 2018],” White said. “That’s a fight to make, but I don’t know. We’ll see how this plays out. Sure, [I would be open to St-Pierre] if it’s his last fight. This guy’s been great to the company, great to the sport. I like Khabib a lot. I would do anything Khabib wanted to do.”