The buildup to the Oct. 24 UFC lightweight unification bout is expected to be civil with champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim champ Justin Gaethje enjoying a friendly rivalry while being represented by the same manager, Ali Abdelaziz, but Nurmagomedov made it clear he views himself as the better fighter.
"I will take him to the deepest ocean and drown him," Nurmagomedov wrote on Instagram on Monday, in response to Joe Rogan's post in which he described Gaethje as a "savage."
Nurmagomedov said Gaethje is a "very nice guy and good opponent for me," but when the Octagon door closes, Gaethje will have to be ready for more than a boxing match, implying that's what his two recent opponents -- Dustin Poirier and Tony Ferguson -- offered. "I'm not Dustin or Tony," Nurmagomedov wrote.
Nurmagomedov (28-0, 12-0 UFC) is considered one of the greatest fighters in MMA history with an unmatched ground game while Gaethje (22-2, 5-2 UFC) is viewed as one of the sports' best strikers. But Gaethje also was a Div. 1 All-American wrestler, and his all-around game may prove to be the most difficult test yet for the undefeated Nurmagomedov.
Conor McGregor, meanwhile, couldn't let an opportunity to troll Nurmagomedov pass as he took a shot at his arch-rival's wrestling style. McGregor wrote Nurmagomedov will run around the ring, implying he wouldn't want to engage in a stand-up fight. McGregor, who lost via fourth-round submission to Nurmagomedov on Oct. 6, 2018, later deleted the tweet.
If McGregor is in line to face the winner, it won't be this year, according to UFC president Dana White, who said McGregor won't fight again in 2020.
Meanwhile, Daniel Cormier, who is a teammate of Nurmagomedov's at American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California, said their coach Javier Mendez will fly to Russia after Cormier's Aug. 15 heavyweight title bout vs. Stipe Miocic. Nurmagomedov remains at home in the Russian region of Dagestan.
"After my fight's done, Jav's going out there to train him and get him ready," Cormier said on the DC & Helwani show. "The [AKA] gym is all messed up, and can they even get in the country to train here? It's a mess.
"It's better for him to train in Russia. And he'll be fine. He knows how to train."
Cormier said he's surprised Nurmagomedov is returning so quickly after the death of his father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, who died on July 3 after he underwent heart surgery for a preexisting condition further complicated by COVID-19.
"Yeah, I thought he would be a little bit longer, but the reality is we find motivation in different ways," Cormier said. "He wants to honor his father through performance. It's a big thing. I'm happy for him.
"It feels good to know the champ's coming back, and he's excited. I've been talking to him. The dude's getting ready. He's always training."
Cormier said this is a dangerous fight for Nurmagomedov, but he has no doubt Nurmagomedov will be able to get Gaethje to the mat at some point.
"There's not a person between 155 and 185 that can keep the fight standing with that dude, and I'm being serious," Cormier said.
And he said that includes Georges St-Pierre. There's speculation Nurmagomedov may want just one more fight after Gaethje, against GSP, with the hopes of retiring 30-0.