Undefeated UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov has agreed to return to the ring to face interim champ Justin Gaethje on October 24.

In this Sept. 7 2019, file photo, Russian UFC fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov, right, fights with UFC fighter Dustin Poirier, of Lafayette, La., during lightweight title mixed martial arts bout in Yas Mall in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
In this Sept. 7 2019, file photo, Russian UFC fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov, right, fights with UFC fighter Dustin Poirier, of Lafayette, La., during lightweight title mixed martial arts bout in Yas Mall in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Mahmoud Khaled / AP)

Khabib Nurmagomedov will return to the Octagon to fight Justin Gaethje.

UFC President Dana White confirmed the long-awaited bout will now take place on October 24, after a difficult year for the Russian fighter. 

Nurmagomedov's father and trainer, Abdulmanap, 57, died in a Moscow hospital earlier this month due to complications stemming from a Covid-19 infection. 

"It's been very rough on him," White said.

"His father was a hero to him, he loved his father, they had a very close relationship and it was very hard on him."

Tough challenge

Gaethje (22-2) presents a stark challenge in style for Nurmagomedov, a world-class wrestler and grappler who has been extraordinarily successful on the ground.

Gaethje is an exceptional striker who proved his world-class ability in May with a fifth-round stoppage of longtime contender Tony Ferguson, claiming the interim belt in an upset victory. 

Gaethje has won four straight fights with his sensational brawling style.

Location

The promotion didn't announce a location for the fight, but White has said the UFC is unlikely to host fans at any events for the next several months.

White has previously suggested Nurmagomedov would return at Fight Island, the UFC's secure bubble on Abu Dhabi's Yas Island where the promotion hosted four shows earlier this month. Nurmagomedov beat Poirier in Abu Dhabi last year.

The UFC's next several events are scheduled for Las Vegas, but Nurmagomedov was sharply critical of the UFC's hometown and the Nevada Athletic Commission after he was sanctioned for leaving the cage and brawling in the stands.

Nurmagomedov lives in Russia, but usually trains for his fights in the Bay Area.

Rumours of retirement

Nurmagomedov (28-0) holds the longest active unbeaten streak in MMA, and he became the UFC's lightweight champion in April 2018 by defeating Al Iaquinta for the vacant belt. 

He has defended his title just twice, but he defeated interim lightweight champ Dustin Poirier by submission last September in his most recent fight.

There had been rumours that Nurmagomedov might retire from the sport following the death of his father, but his team had previously said he would return after a period of grief.

Nurmagomedov became one of MMA’s biggest stars at UFC 229 in October 2018 with his fourth-round stoppage of Conor McGregor and his subsequent leap over the cage and into the stands to fight members of McGregor’s entourage for their perceived disrespect.

Although the UFC’s pay-per-view sales figures are private, UFC 229 is widely thought to be the most-bought event in MMA history.

Source: AP