Dana White is tipping the headline bouts at the UFC’s next two pay-per-view events, which feature Israel Adesanya and Khabib Nurmagomedov, as Fight of the Year contenders.
Adesanya defends his middleweight title against Paulo Costa at the top of the card at UFC 253 on September 27, with lightweight champion Nurmagomedov taking on interim belt-holder Justin Gaethje in the main event at UFC 254 on October 25. Although locations have yet to be confirmed, but shows are expected to take place in Abu Dhabi.
The match-up between Adesanya and Costa, the No 2-ranked challenger, pits against one another two undefeated fighters – 19-0 and 13-0, respectively – while Nurmagomedov has yet to be beaten in 28 professional mixed martial arts bouts.
Gaethje, meanwhile, set up the encounter by comprehensively defeating Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 in May. The American, whose record stands at 22-2, is considered by many as the sternest test Nurmagomedov has faced to date.
Asked following his latest Contender Series event on Wednesday if he had a location confirmed for Adesanya-Costa, UFC president White said: “That’s Fight of the Year, man; I can’t wait for this fight.
“Still to this day, I have [strawweight champion] Weili Zhang versus Joanna Jedrzejczyk [at UFC 248 in March]. We were in a meeting the other day and we have those big TVs that play out there. Literally, that was on and it [messed] up the whole meeting for me, I couldn’t stop watching that fight. It was so goddamn good.
“But I’m telling you what’s going to give it a run for its money is that fight. Obviously the two you’ve got to think are going to give that a run is Gaethje versus Khabib and Israel and Costa."
White added with a smile: “And, no, I do not have location yet.”
Both UFC 253 and UFC 254 look set to be staged at Fight Island on Yas Island. The inaugural series, designed to permit the promotion's international athletes compete during the coronavirus pandemic, took place last month. Beginning with UFC 251 on July 12, it featured four events and four title bouts.