Just days after earning the interim lightweight title in a five-round slugfest against Tony Ferguson, Justin Gaethje could be preparing for an immediate return to the Octagon to square off with current champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
After getting stuck in Dagestan due to travel restrictions stemming from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and observing Ramadan from April 24 until May 23, Nurmagomedov has maintained his training and said he could be ready for a UFC return as soon as July. UFC president Dana White is apparently ready to test that claim, with plans to book the title fight later this summer, according to his comments on ESPN 1000 Chicago.
“I don’t know if it will be the first one, but it will be on Fight Island, unless miraculously the world comes back together faster than I think it’s gonna,” White said, per ESPN.
“Hopefully (the island infrastructure) will be done by mid-June, and I could put on a fight that weekend that it’s done or end of June.”
Nurmagomedov is almost certainly anxious to return to the fight game after he left the United States to travel to the UAE for UFC 249, where it was assumed the event would take place. He was eventually re-routed to Russia due to travel restrictions and acknowledged he went into quarantine. The unbeaten champion hasn’t fought since submitting Dustin Poirier back in September 2019, and there’s no question he’s anxious to return to his throne as the king of the division.
Even July would be an absurdly quick turnaround for Gaethje, having just gone five full rounds with Ferguson. Getting past Gaethje-Nurmagomedov and adding another potential title fight later this year could be the motivation, though, with Conor McGregor waiting in the wings and money to be made in the suddenly stacked lightweight division. Where exactly this leaves McGregor remains to be seen, but he did seem to hint at a July return Monday evening.