It was confirmed last week that undefeated lightweight ruler Khabib and interim champ Gaethje will meet in the octagon on October 24, at a destination yet to be announced but which is widely expected to be ‘Fight Island’ in Abu Dhabi.
Khabib enters a contest for the first time without the input of his father and trainer Abdulmanap, who died at the age of 57 in July from complications stemming from a Covid-19 infection.
After mourning his father’s passing, Khabib is now ramping up his preparations for the dangerous Gaethje, issuing a post to his 21 million Instagram followers in which he says things will be different, but that he is looking forward to linking up again with US-based coach Javier Mendez.
“It will be tough preparation, in September I’ll already be with @akajav, Inshallah,” Khabib wrote in Russian, tagging the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) trainer and sharing a picture of the pair together, with cousin and fellow UFC fighter Umar Nurmagomedov in the background.
“This preparation will be different from all my previous preparation.”
Khabib added a similar message in English, with a note that he had “missed” Mendez during their time apart amid the Covid-19 shutdown.
Khabib was forced to quit Mendez’s gym due to coronavirus restrictions back in mid-March as he was preparing for his ill-fated match-up with Tony Ferguson.
The Dagestani fighter and his team initially made their way to the UAE, where they believed the bout with Ferguson was due to happen, only to be denied entry to the country and ultimately end up stranded in Russia when the borders were locked down.
Ferguson instead went on to face Gaethje, who produced a career-best performance to stop his rival in the fifth round to set up a shot at Khabib.
The ensuing period has brought the tragic loss of Khabib’s father, although he appears to remain fully focused on fulfilling what is widely to be Abdulmanap’s wish of reaching the 30-0 milestone before retiring.
Khabib hinted last week that after his showdown with Gaethje he was targeting an April meeting with all-time great Georges St-Pierre.
The retired Canadian suggested at the weekend that he was open to the offer, telling the UFC that “they know where to find him” if they have “an offer he can’t refuse.”
Previously, Khabib had been forced to fight without Abdulmanap in his corner for each of his UFC bouts in the US due to visa issues.
However, his father was in his corner the last time he fought in the octagon, defending his title against Dustin Poirier in Abu Dhabi last September.
US-based coach Mendez said in an interview in July that he had not spoken directly with Khabib since his father’s death, but that he was there to offer his support.
“I know one thing, (Khabib’s) carrying on with the legacy of his father and being a great coach himself,” Mendez added.
“(Abdulmanap) had built up a monster roster that’s coming through, and I’ve been privileged to be part of that.”
The AKA gym is currently gearing up for another blockbuster title fight, with Khabib’s friend and teammate Daniel Cormier attempting to reclaim the heavyweight title when he meets Stipe Miocic in their trilogy fight in Las Vegas at UFC 252 on August 15.