Khabib Nurmagomedov says he can’t wait to put on a "very big show" upon his UFC return in Abu Dhabi, when he faces Dustin Poirier in the lightweight unification bout in the capital on September 7.
The undefeated Russian, the reigning lightweight champion, takes on the interim belt holder at The Arena on Yas Island – the headline match-up at UFC 242 as the world’s lead mixed martial arts promotion returns to the capital after a five-year hiatus.
The fight represents Nurmagomedov’s first competitive outing since last October, when he was banned for nine months following a brawl that took place immediately following his victory against Conor McGregor in Las Vegas.
Speaking at a relatively amicable press conference in central London on Wednesday, as he faced off with Poirier for the first time, Nurmagomedov said: "It's going to be a very big and very good show for everybody who's going to fight in Abu Dhabi.
"My father can come to Abu Dhabi; he can’t get a visa for America so he’s going to be in my corner for the first time in UFC. In Abu Dhabi a lot of friends from Russia can come. They’ve already sold all tickets, so it’s going to be a good show: for me, my family, my team and I’ve very excited for this. I can’t wait.”
While acclimatisation plans have not been fully decided yet, Nurmagomedov said he would arrive in Abu Dhabi “maybe one month” before the fight.
Nurmagomedov, the No 3-ranked fighter in UFC one of the organisation’s most popular figures, boasts a flawless record in mixed martial arts (MMA), with 27 victories from 27 professional fights. Poirier, meanwhile, has 25 wins and five losses from 31 bouts, winning his most recent, against Max Holloway at UFC 236 in April.
A frequent visitor to the UAE, Nurmagomedov said his experiences there made him feel like he was in his home region of Dagestan because of his popularity.
“I go there all the time and when I go there it’s crazy. I even can’t walk in the streets,” he said.
“Before the fight happened, I talked with a lot of big guys in the Emirates. They said they are working on this and my focus was on Abu Dhabi before they announced this fight.”
He said mixed martial arts and UFC were “very, very popular in the Emirates” and across the Middle East. The Dagestani has plans to build ‘Khabib’ UFC gyms in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
“I’m not surprised why UFC made this event in Abu Dhabi. I’m not surprised,” added Nurmagomedov.
September 7 marks the first event since the UFC announced a five-year partnership in April with the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) in April, which guarantees championship fights will take place in the capital through to 2024.
Abu Dhabi has twice previously hosted the UFC, in 2010 and 2014. Tickets for UFC 242 went on sale on Friday, with the initial batch already sold out. Organisers said hotel packages would be available from this Sunday.