Abu Dhabi is ‘our territory,’ Khabib warns Brazil’s Oliveira
Khabib Nurmagomedov says the forthcoming battle between the man anointed as his successor, Islam Makhachev, and Brazilian submission machine Charles Oliveira is about as good as high-level MMA can get, but warning that the UAE is a home from home for the Russian fighter.
The two 155lbs standouts have set a considerable pace in the UFC's shark tank lightweight division in recent times. Makhachev, the latest title hopeful to have emerged from the never-ending assembly line of impressive talent out of Dagestan, has looked unbeatable recently but will face the sternest-ever test of his credentials when he fights (former) champion Oliveira later this year.
The Brazilian, unbeaten in 11 fights, has finished a who's-who of top contenders, knocking them off their pedestal one by one. Justin Gaethje, Dustin Poirier, Michael Chandler and Tony Ferguson all came knocking recently, but each was sent home defeated - with all, barring Ferguson, finished before the final bell could toll.
But according to former champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, his friend and training partner Makhachev is made of sterner stuff.
The two will lock horns in the UFC 280 main event in Abu Dhabi on October 22; a fight which came about in the Middle East despite Oliveira's apparent preference for a title fight in his native country.
And as far as Khabib is concerned, this decision is not up to him.
“Who cares what he wants?” Nurmagomedov said via the The Mike Finch Show on YouTube.
“He cannot make the decision; Islam cannot make the decision. We are just fighters. Islam is signed with the UFC and we have to listen to the UFC. Same thing with Charles Oliveira.
“We don't choose location. UFC sends us the location, we will fly. It doesn't matter. If they tell us to go to Brazil, OK we're going to Brazil. No problem.”
But that isn't to say that Khabib is unhappy with the fight's eventual destination.
“But Abu Dhabi, it's our territory,” he said with a wry smile.
“I think [Oliveira] understands this and he tried to... avoid. But now, it is what it is. We have like 90 days before the fight.”
The fight will pair two of the most dominant fighters of their era against one another; MMA's very own clash of a dominant force against an immovable object - and while Khabib's loyalties are certainly clear, he also can't help but lick his lips at the clash which takes place at the absolute pinnacle of the sport.
“This, for me as a fan of MMA, is like the most exciting fight of this year,” he said. “11 win streak versus 10 win streak. I don't think ever the UFC make this type of fight, crazy win streak versus crazy win streak.
“It was supposed to be me versus Tony Ferguson but it never happened. But Islam versus Charles, this is like a dream fight."
Before the hostilities begin, first comes the hard preparation. Having fought in the region on more than one occasion, Khabib says that he and his team have learned how to counter the dual impact of the time difference and the October Abu Dhabi heat, which can rise as high as 35C (95F).
“We're going to move to Dubai, we're going to be there 40 days before the fight,” Khabib explained.
“No jet lag. It's very important because it's the desert, a completely different place. I fought there a couple of times, I know how [it feels]. Islam was always with me, he knows how [it feels].”