Dana White has used the opening to the Khabib Nurmagomedov versus Justin Gaethje pre-fight press conference to laud the Russian UFC champion’s astonishing pulling power, pointing to his virtual and real-life popularity.
Promotion president White claimed he had anticipated a question about why the fight was special during the press call on the beach in Abu Dhabi, standing between Nurmagomedov and Gaethje as he recited a litany of figures highlighting the lightweight king’s superstar status.
Referring to “the video game” – the hugely popular UFC series on consoles including PlayStation and Xbox – White said that Nurmagomedov was the most popular choice of character with players and reeled off statistics about his vastly-followed social media accounts.
“Apparently people in the business don’t know this but Khabib is one of the biggest stars in all of sports, not just the UFC,” White replied to the first question he was asked.
“Khabib’s videos have generated 222 million views. His content, that features him, has over 100 million video views this year alone – just on Facebook.
“Let me point out some of these…he’s broken records on Instagram. I could just rattle off numbers all day, here.
“He’s the number one, by far, most-played character on the [EA] video game globally by a long shot.
“The numbers just go on and on. I could go on for days but the kid’s broken a lot of records.”
Big-talker White did not name the sources for the figures, which he read from a piece of paper while the seated Nurmagomedov listened to his right.
The Dagestani great’s official YouTube channel has almost 14 million views, while his Facebook account is followed by more than 2.8 million accounts and regularly receives hundreds of thousands of views for individual videos.
With almost 22 million followers, Nurmagomedov is the second-most followed UFC fighter on Instagram, leading Ronda Rousey, who has 13 million followers, but behind former victim Conor McGregor, who has more than 37 million.
The most followed athletes on the platform are almost exclusively footballers, with Cristiano Ronaldo, who has called Nurmagomedov “my brother” and predicted he will beat interim champion Gaethje, leading the way on more than 241 million followers.
A six-second video showing Nurmagomedov punching McGregor during that fight in 2018, which was the most popular pay-per-view event in UFC history, earned more than 5 million views on the unbeaten fighter’s Facebook page.
White reiterated that early figures have shown Nurmagomedov’s return after more than 13 months out could eclipse the 2.4 million pay-per-view buys hauled in by his meeting with McGregor.
That fight spilled over into a personal feud, and White acknowledged the contrasting lack of acrimony between Nurmagomedov and Gaethje.
Pointing to the American, he said: “What makes this fight so big is that people believe this kid has the style to beat him.
“You have all the ingredients for a massive fight: you have a big superstar and you have a kid [Gaethje] coming off an incredible win over a highly respected fighter [Tony Ferguson].
“Many people that he has the style to do it. It’s not one of these fights where these two don’t need to scream at each other.
“When I did some media yesterday, this thing was by far tracking to be the biggest fight we’ve ever done. When we get to Thursday and Friday, when pre-buys start to come in, we’ll see – but that’s a damn good place to start.”