Gaethje will be hoping to take the Russian’s championship title when they meet in the Octagon, and he made his feelings about his own belt clear in Wednesday’s face-off.
The pair were handed their belts as they posed for photos after a respectful staredown, but after several seconds – who looked almost embarrassed to hold it – quickly gave it back.
The American has form in this area.
Gaethje won the interim belt in May with a fifth-round knockout of Tony Ferguson.
Reigning lightweight champ Nurmagomedov had been expected to fight Ferguson, but ‘The Highlight’ stepped in at short notice after Covid-19 travel restrictions prevented him from attending.
After being handed the interim belt in the Octagon moments after his win in May – the first title he’s won since he began fighting in the UFC in 2017 – the 31-year-old immediately threw it away.
“I’m waiting for the real one,” he said at the time.
The 22-2 fighter will have his shot at the championship soon enough, but to win it he’ll need to become the first contender to beat Nurmagomedov, who is unbeaten in 28 career bouts.