UFC boss Dana White says a lightweight title unifier between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje could still be on the cards for September despite the tragic recent death of Khabib’s father and trainer Abdulmanap.
Khabib has not spoken publicly since his father lost his months-long battle with complications arising from a Covid-19 infection earlier this month.
UFC chief White reiterated after the promotion’s latest card on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday night that he was still giving the Russian lightweight champion plenty of space to mourn, but that fans could still hope for a title showdown with Gaethje in September.
“I’m not messing with Khabib, I’m leaving him alone until he’s ready to talk. I’m letting him mourn and do what he has to do,” White told the media on Yas Island.
“I reached out to him the day of [his father’s death], and I haven’t heard back from him since.
“I don’t think it [a September fight with Gaethje] is off the table, I’m just waiting to hear from him [Khabib].”
Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov passed away on July 3 at the age of 57, following heart and brain complications arising from a coronavirus infection.
He was buried in his home village in Dagestan amid an outpouring of tributes from the MMA world and beyond.
Discussion has now turned to what his passing will mean for his son’s career and next steps.
Khabib himself maintained an active training routine throughout his father’s illness, saying it is what he would have wanted.
Nurmagomedov Sr. was in Khabib’s corner the last time he fought, defending his title against Dustin Poirier in Abu Dhabi at UFC 242 last September.
Gaethje, 31, earned a shot at Khabib by stepping in to defeat Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 in May, in what was a career-best performance from ‘The Highlight’.
Khabib, 31, had been due to face Ferguson in a long-awaited showdown in New York in April, but was forced out of the bout after becoming stranded in his Dagestani homeland when the coronavirus pandemic forced a border shutdown.