Abu Dhabi, UAE — Justin Gaethje, the UFC’s explosive and exciting (and all sorts of other adjectives) interim lightweight champion, has the toughest fight of his career this weekend at UFC 254.
Of course, the next fight is always the toughest. But rarely does that cliche actually resemble reality the way it does with Gaethje vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Khabib is a daunting 28-0. He’s lost all of one round in that time. In Gaethje’s estimation, he said during the UFC 254 press conference on Wednesday, he really hasn’t lost a round period.
When “The Highlight” walks to the octagon come Saturday, however, he’ll do so with his family nearby. In something of a rarity during the pandemic era, Gaethje’s mother and father have made the trip with him to “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi.
“My parents have never flown international. They got to fly business class, they’ve never flown business class,” Gaethje (22-2) told Cageside Press during Wednesday’s press conference. “My dad retired a little bit over a year ago, he worked 37 years in a copper mine. My mom is going to retire after this. If this fight starts, if that bell rings at the beginning, then I will secure that she will retire after this fight. And she’s been there I think 35 years.”
Gaethje’s parents being present on Fight Island this week is nearly unheard of these days. It’s an accommodation the UFC made for a main event star, one whose family have been there supporting him since day one.
“They never had a chance to fly international. Every piece of money they had went into me, and my brother, and my sister. Giving me the opportunities,” explained the former WSOF champ. Two hours away from any major city, “going school clothes shopping was a vacation for us,” he continued. Going to wrestling tournaments was a financial hit “every single time” they had to spend the night something.
“Nothing is better on earth than being able to repay that,” said Gaethje.
Still, when fight time comes, “when I step in that octagon, nothing matters,” he admitted. “They’re not there. My coach, Trevor Whitman, is there. That’s the only voice that I can hear. And that’s all that matters to me. But I’m very happy that they get to experience this.”
UFC 254 takes place on “Fight Island” (Yas Island) in Abu Dhabi at the Flash Forum on Saturday, October 24. The main card airs live on PPV following televised and online prelims.