Dana White shifting gears: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje targeted for September

It appeared that a UFC lightweight unification bout between champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim titleholder Justin Gaethje was possible for late July. Those plans have change, and now UFC President Dana White is targeting that fight for September.

It is unclear what changed the date of the fight so much within the last 24 to 48 hours, but it is certainly likely that the health of Nurmagomedov’s father is a factor. 

Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov was hospitalized more than two weeks ago in Dagestan. He was diagnosed with pneumonia and flu-like symptoms. He was tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus that has the world in crisis, but the result was negative.

Multiple reports from Russian news outlets now say that Abdulmanap was flown to a military hospital in Moscow, where he is in a coma. He is in critical condition, but cannot receive visitors because of precautions being taken because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Abdulmanap, 57, has long been Khabib’s head coach, leading him to the UFC lightweight championship and a spotless 28-0 record. He also coaches other fighters and is one of the most respected wrestling and Sambo coaches in Russia.

White and Conor McGregor, Khabib’s longtime bitter rival, issued statements on Wednesday expressing their sympathies to the Nurmagomedov family.

It would certainly be understandable if Khabib wasn’t even willing to consider his next fight at a time like this, but he apparently is. White indicated that after he spoke with Khabib personally on the phone, UFC officials were preparing bout agreements for the fight with Gaethje in September as soon as Tuesday.

“We were gonna send out bout agreements (Tuesday). There were a couple of weird things that happened, so it didn’t end up getting done apparently,” White said at the UFC Fight Night: Smith vs. Teixeira post-fight press conference.

“But we’re talking about doing Gaethje vs. Khabib in September (instead of the summer). I talked to Khabib yesterday and he said September, I’m ready to go in September.”

How Justin Gaethje earned a shot at Khabib

Khabib had been slated to make the latest defense of his title opposite Tony Ferguson in the UFC 249 headliner on April 18. That bout was eventually sidelined for the fifth time because of overwhelming complications due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Khabib, a Muslim, is currently observing Raemadan. Though Ramadan ends later this month, Khabib normally takes a couple of months to regain his conditioning following a month of fasting, prayer, and reflection.

While he was out of the picture, Gaethje leap-frogged Ferguson by stopping him late in the fifth round of revamped UFC 249 main event. The victory secured his shot at Khabib.

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