“If the world comes back to normal, these fights can happen anywhere,” White said. “This was, without a doubt, the most challenging year of my career, but it has also been the most rewarding.”
Saturday’s fight takes place at a key time for Nurmagomedov.
Nurmagomedov, the U.F.C.’s 155-pound champion, has competed only twice in the last 24 months, partly because of the pandemic. His most recent win came through a third-round submission by Dustin Poirier in September 2019.
The previous October, he collared McGregor in the fourth round of their grudge match, squeezing McGregor’s neck and jaw until he submitted. After the final bell, Nurmagomedov dived into the audience to fight hecklers from McGregor’s entourage, igniting a brawl that got both fighters suspended in Nevada.
During Nurmagomedov’s absence, Gaethje’s profile has grown. He stepped in for Nurmagomedov and knocked out Ferguson, earning the U.F.C.’s interim lightweight title. That guaranteed Gaethje a shot at Nurmagomedov for the undisputed belt.
The fight has an unusual start time.
From a business standpoint, White insists that Nurmagomedov comes with a built-in audience of paying customers, even if coronavirus restrictions will keep them from watching in person.
Nurmagomedov has 22 million followers on Instagram, and White said a recent Nurmagomedov video on the U.F.C.’s Facebook page had accumulated more than 100 million views. He also said that Nurmagomedov’s character was the most frequently selected by online players of the U.F.C.’s video game.
Though most U.F.C. pay-per-view events, regardless of where they occur, take place during prime time hours for U.S. viewers, Saturday’s main card begins at 2 p.m. Eastern time. That start time is better suited to Nurmagomedov fans in Russia and the Republic of Dagestan, where he grew up. The pay-per-view will also begin at 10 p.m. local time in Abu Dhabi, where Nurmagomedov defeated Poirier and where he trained for this fight.