UFC 254 is pretty big deal, that much is well documented.
Earlier this week UFC president Dana White revealed that the card is trending to be the promotion’s top-selling pay-per-view of all time, potentially surpassing the blockbuster showdown between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor in 2018.
For Justin Gaethje, UFC 254 is significant beyond pay-per-figures and the chance to unseat Nurmagomedov as the organization’s reigning lightweight champion. It’s about long-term security for his family. Both Gaethje’s mom and dad will be in attendance when he stands across from Nurmagomedov at the Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi on Saturday. That will be a memorable moment in itself.
“My parents have never flown international,” Gaethje said at a pre-fight press conference on Wednesday. “They got to fly business class [to Abu Dhabi]. They’ve never flown business class.
“My dad retired a little over a year ago. He worked 37 years in the copper mines. My mom is going to retire…If this fight starts, if that bell rings at the beginning, then I will secure that she will retire after the fight,” he continued. “Every piece of money they had went into me and my brother and sister. We were two hours from any city.. Going school clothes shopping was a vacation for us. We’d get up and go to wrestling tournaments … they financially took hits every single time that we did that. Nothing is better on earth than to be able to repay that.”
Nurmagomedov established himself as one of the sport’s biggest stars during his feud with McGregor, and it certainly doesn’t hurt one’s bank account to be booked opposite the Dagestani grappler.
“The reality is this … Khabib is one of the biggest stars in all of sports, not just the UFC,” White said. “Khabib’s videos have generated 220 million views. The content that features him, over 100 million views just on Facebook. He’s broken records on Instagram. i could rattle off numbers all day here. He’s by far the No. 1 most played character in the [UFC]] video game, globally, by a long shot.”
All of the above makes for a massive opportunity for Gaethje, who earned the chance to face “The Eagle” by besting Tony Ferguson for interim lightweight gold at UFC 249 in May. Gaethje, who shares the same management as his opponent, once helped Nurmagomedov cut weight for a previous bout.
“I’ve been cutting weight my whole life, he’s been cutting weight his whole life. There’s nothing fun about it,” Gaethje said. “If I’m around and you’re struggling, then I’m gonna lend a helping hand — it doesn’t matter who you are. I just happened to be in the situation at the time and it’s who I am. Nothing more than that. I didnt go into the situation to learn about him or about his mindset. I was there to help because he needed some help at the time just in that one minute.”
While there clearly isn’t the same level of animosity in this matchup that there was for say, Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor, there is nonetheless plenty to look forward to come Saturday.
“I know he’s ultimately confident in what he does. He’s done it 28 times,” Gaethje said. “I’ve been telling myself that’s what’s gonna happen and that’s what drives me every day. I’m a performer. I always show up under the lights and that’s what I do. This is ingrained in us. On Saturday I will give everything and be proud of my performance.”
Adds White: “These come together every once in a while. it’s not one of these fights where these two need to scream at each other. People know who both of these guys are, they know what they’re both capable of and that’s why this fight is so big.”
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