UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov says there is no bad blood between himself and Justin Gaethje ahead of their title unification battle, and revealed how his latest championship rival actually helped him make weight for a crucial bout early in his UFC career.
Nurmagomedov (28-0 MMA, 12-0 UFC) and Gaethje (22-2 MMA, 5-2 UFC) are set to contest the undisputed crown in the main event of UFC 254 on Oct. 24 and the undefeated Russian said he has no personal beef with “The Highlight” ahead of their matchup.
“I’ve known Gaethje for a while, since he fought in WSOF,” Nurmagomedov explained (via RT Sport translation). “I remember in 2016 when I was returning after I had three surgeries in a row, when Tony Ferguson got injured and I got Darrell Horcher on nine days’ notice (at UFC on Fox 19). Justin helped me cut weight. I had a tough weight cut. He helped me cut the last 2.5 kilograms (approximately 5.5 pounds) the morning before the weigh-ins.
“I remember I dropped the last kilogram in the hot bath. You might not know how we cut weight – you spend 15 minutes in a hot bath, then you’re wrapped in a towel and go back in. You do that three, four times. He helped take me out of the bath because there weren’t enough people around. Islam Makhachev was cutting weight, so was Omari Akhmedov. We were all fighting the same night. You need a couple of people around you and Justin was there for me, so I have no ill will toward him.
“He fights (and) wants to be the best in the world and I respect his efforts. He achieved a lot in the sport and I think he’s a worthy opponent. You saw what he did to Tony Ferguson. I don’t underestimate him. It’s strictly professional. We’ll get in the cage, shake hands, handle our business and leave.”
While Nurmagomedov may have respect for his latest rival, he did say that history is repeating itself in the narrative being portrayed by the media ahead of their upcoming bout. He also revealed that he thinks Conor McGregor is a better striker than the current interim champ.
“Before the fight with (Edson) Barboza, they said that he was my most uncomfortable rival,” he said. “Then they said the same thing before the fight with Conor, then with (Dustin) Poirier.
“They didn’t have time to say that about (Al) Iaquinta, because they gave me a fight in a few hours. I am sympathetic to this, but journalists need to say something to warm up their interest in battle.
“But I kind of agree that Gaethje is a very good fighter. If he was bad he would not have fought for the belt. Is he better standing than Conor? I think no. My fighting IQ tells me that Conor is better standing than Gaethje.”