Daniel Cormier calls Justin Gaethje the ‘toughest opponent’ for Khabib Nurmagomedov

Later this year, UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov will defend his title against Justin Gaethje, the man many believe to be the toughest test for Khabib in the 155-pound division. And Khabib’s longtime training partner and friend Daniel Cormier agrees.

Speaking with Yahoo Sports recently, Cormier discussed Khabib’s upcoming title defense against Gaethje, calling it the most difficult fight of Nurmagomedov’s career.

“I think he’s going to fight his toughest opponent,” Cormier said. “I think the vast majority of the world feels as though this is the toughest guy for him at 155 [pounds]. I think he’ll be okay. His ability to train and prepare for this and continue to work toward the goal that him and his father had together will allow for him to maybe come to terms with everything that’s happening around him.”

The fight will be difficult not only because of the physical challenges Gaethje presents, but also because of the mental ones facing Khabib in the lead up to this fight. The lightweight champion’s father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, recently passed away from complications due to COVID-19. It was a stunning blow to the world of mixed martial arts and one that had some people question if Khabib might retire as a result. Instead, Nurmagomedov is choosing to get right back into the business of fighting, and Cormier says that it may be the best way for him to deal with the death of his father.

“Sometimes you need distraction and you need motivation in different forms,” Cormier said. “I think Khabib will use [his father’s death] as motivation. He’s a professional. He’s a pro’s pro and he’s going to prepare himself to the best of his ability.

“Javier Mendez (American Kickboxing Academy head coach) is gonna corner me and do my fight and then, a month later, he’s going to head out to Russia and spend the last two months of Khabib’s training camp with him. The team will prepare him to the best of his ability, but he’ll also be around his family who loves him, and now he’ll see Javier from here, another familiar face who will help him to get through a difficult time as he prepares to defend his title again.”

The change in training will not be the only difference for this title fight though. Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, this lightweight title fight will take place in an empty arena. It will be the first time Khabib has fought without fans present and that also could mean Cormier won’t be there for the bout either. ‘DC’ has not cornered anyone in some time and won’t be making the trip to Dagestan to help Khabib prepare, so the only way he could be present for the bout is if he were to call the event, which Cormier generally does not do. Still, Cormier hopes he can be there to support Khabib for his toughest test.

“I usually don’t call Khabib’s fights because it’s too difficult,” Cormier said. “I’m too invested in him as a friend but when he steps into the octagon, I would love to be in the arena in some form or fashion, to support my friend. I think that’s very important. He’s our champion. He’s AKA’s only champion right now and we hold him high and want to support him as much as we can.”

Nurmagomedov vs. Gaethje will take place at UFC 254 on Oct. 24. The location has yet to be determined.