Khabib Nurmagomedov unsure how he’ll feel in the cage after “hardest year” of his life

Khabib Nurmagomedov, UFC 254

Undefeated UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov says 2020 has been the hardest year of his life.

Thanks to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, 2020 has been tough on many people, but Nurmagomedov has endured more tragedy than most. This summer, the lightweight champion lost his father Abdulmanap, who was also his coach, mentor and greatest influence.

As Nurmagomedov has prepared for his title defense against Justin Gaethje, which goes down this Saturday in the main event of UFC 254, many fans have wondered how he’ll be affected by the loss of his father.

Speaking to ESPN ahead of the fight, the champ conceded that it’s been the hardest year of his life, and that he isn’t sure how he’ll feel in the cage—even if he feels great now.

“This year, it was very hard for me,” Nurmagomedov said. “Very, very hard. With COVID, with everything that happened, it was very hard, like everywhere. Of course it was very big challenge for me. This was hardest year in my life.

“Who knows I’m going to feel inside the cage?” Nurmagomedov added. “Physically I feel great. Mental, I feel great too. But [this is the] first time I’m going to have this hard situation when I go the cage. Nobody knows, but my mental, my body is feeling really good. I really want to compete with this guy. I really want to be inside the cage. This is my goal. This year, I have to defend my title.”

Khabib Nurmagomedov has defended the UFC lightweight title twice, first against Conor McGregor, then against Dustin Poirier, both by way of submission. He’s never been beaten in 28 pro fights.