Khabib Nurmagomedov’s coach Javier Mendez said the fighter is driven to preserve the legacy he and his late father Abdulmanap had planned ahead of his clash with Justin Gaethje at UFC 254.

The Russian fighter’s father and trainer died in July aged 57 as a result of Covid-19 complications.

Asked how the UFC lightweight champion had dealt with the loss, Mendez said: “He’s been handling it fantastic, he’s driven, he’s motivated to preserve the legacy that him and his father had planned. That’s the one thing I can say that is great, his mind.

“He says ‘Coach, if anything breaks it’s ok because my mind is not broken.’”

The American Kickboxing Academy coach admitted that Abdulmanap’s loss from the camp had affected his preparation for Saturday’s fight.

“When I had his father with me, even though I’ve only cornered one time and that was with Dustin [Poirier], the fact that I would talk to Khabib about things, about how we apply things, and he’d always tell me ‘Yes my father said the same thing coach.’

“I don’t have that any more so I don’t have that backup before, someone that grew with him and knew him better than anybody. I don’t have that, so for me it’s a little bit more difficult per se.”

Nurmagomedov will hope to complete a third successful defense of his lightweight belt when he faces off against Gaethje at Fight Island.

Mendez said ‘The Highlight’ had not really been on his radar until he beat Tony Ferguson to win the interim lightweight title back in May.

“I didn’t really pay attention to him until he dismantled Tony,” he said. “Because now he was real, now he’s in front of us. So then I paid attention and I saw how great he actually is and what a challenge he is.”

Asked whether the American’s wrestling or striking makes him more dangerous, Mendez said: “It’s the striking for me, and the fact that he has D-I wrestling does also have a big impact, but it’s the striking. 

“He’s the best kicker in the business I believe, in the 155 anyways, because I think Israel [Adesanya] probably takes the nod for being the best kicker all the way round.”

The 31-year-old honed his wrestling skills in the NCAA Division I during his time at the University of Northern Colorado before transitioning into MMA.

He holds a 22-2 record, but despite his wrestling background 19 of his wins have come via knockout and just one through submission.

Nurmagomedov is 28-0 in his career, with 10 submission wins under his belt.

He has hinted that he may only fight in one more bout if he beats Gaethje, with the aim of retiring with a perfect 30-0 record.

Asked who he would want Nurmagomedov to end his career against, Mendez said: “Whether it’s Khabib’s last fight I don’t know, but let’s just say it is… [Georges St-Pierre] would be my number one pick.”

The former two-weight champion is considered one of the greatest fighters of all time and boasts a 26-2 record, but he has fought just once since 2013. 

The 39-year-old officially retired in February 2019, more than a year after he won the middleweight title against Michael Bisping.