In a year that already has proved to be massive for the UFC, with one major card after another, UFC 205 on Nov. 12 at Madison Square Garden in New York looks to be the biggest and most important of them all. In honor of such a marquee event, ESPN.com is providing dedicated previews to all 13 bouts on the card, breaking down what's at stake and projecting who will win, along with quotes and statistics for each fighter.
Lightweights: Khabib Nurmagomedov (23-0) versus Michael Johnson (17-10)
Odds as of Nov. 3: Nurmagnmedov -280; Johnson +240
Dana White's thoughts
"Khabib felt used that he didn't get the lightweight title fight? I can't make people fight other people, you know what I mean? I can try my hardest, and we tried to make the fight with [lightweight champion] Eddie Alvarez, but at the end of the day, Conor McGregor is the 145-pound champion, Alvarez is the 155-pound champion -- this is a big fight.
"This is a kid who is tough, has done good things, is undefeated, but has pulled out of a lot of fights. That all factors into this. You can't have the things that have gone on with him, only fight once in two years, and then be like, 'That's it, I want my title shot right now.' Things don't really work that way. Sometimes they do, they work out and you get there, but most of the time, you see it when a guy loses a title -- it's a hard road back. It's a hard road to get to a title shot."
What's at stake?
Nurmagomedov: A pawn, despite a king's record
Should Nurmagomedov defeat Johnson at UFC 205, he will have won eight consecutive fights inside the Octagon. He has already vowed No. 9 will be for nothing less than a lightweight title.
Nurmagomedov says the UFC sent him two bout agreements for a title fight against Eddie Alvarez, only to turn around and book Alvarez to a title defense against Conor McGregor. To Nurmagomedov, it appeared he had been used as means for the UFC to negotiate that fight. His coach, Javier Mendez, echoed that sentiment.
In an interview with Sirius XM, Nurmagomedov suggested he would never fight in the UFC again if it were to deny him a title shot after this fight. For the time being, however, he is focused on the task at hand.
"I'm not worrying about all of these chickens, Conor and Eddie," Nurmagomedov said. "I have one guy to worry about, Michael Johnson.
"McGregor has a chicken heart and if he wins, and when I win, he would likely drop to 135 pounds or retire before he [would] face a real man like me. I'm more than ready. Now is the wrong time to face me. To be honest, I wouldn't want to face me."
Johnson: 'Show me the money fights'
It took some time, but Johnson has emerged from one of the most frustrating stretches of his career -- and has landed a big opportunity to close out 2016.
The 30-year-old suffered a controversial decision loss to Beneil Dariush in August 2015. That was followed by another close decision loss to Nate Diaz, who went on to secure multimillion-dollar paydays in back-to-back fights against McGregor.
A shoulder injury placed Johnson on the sidelines during the first half of this year, but successful surgery and a jaw-dropping first-round knockout over Dustin Poirier in September has things turned around.
"Show me the money fights," Johnson said. "Ask you and shall receive. I asked for this fight against Khabib and now it's time to take advantage. I think I'm right there for the money fights. If I have a dominant performance, you can't deny me a title eliminator. I'm putting myself in a position where I'm worth more than I was when I fought Nate Diaz."
While Nurmagomedov has accused plenty of UFC lightweights of running from him, Johnson publicly asked for this fight. And if Nurmagomedov is serious about not fighting again if he's denied a title shot, Johnson says everyone better enjoy his last fight.
"Everybody is afraid of what they don't understand, and people can't seem to figure this guy out," Johnson said. "He's just another fighter to me. He has strengths, which is wrestling, and he implements it well.
"But I've been wanting to fight Khabib for a long time, and I think he's making a mistake overlooking me. I do find it a little disrespectful he's saying those things, assuming he's going to come in here and have a cakewalk to victory. If he loses, is he leaving the UFC? Because he's definitely not getting a title shot coming off his first loss."
Nurmagomedov: 23-0 (7-0 UFC); scored a takedown in 5 of 7 UFC fights, including UFC-record 21 against Abel Trujillo.
Nurmagomedov: +146 significant strike advantage in UFC fights (270-124).
Johnson: 17-10 (9-6 UFC); 9 knockdowns landed is most in UFC lightweight history.
Johnson: 6 of 10 career losses by submission.
If anyone needed a reminder of the southpaw Johnson's knockout power, he provided it in his last fight. Johnson's hand speed rivals that of any opponent, and an 81 percent takedown defense in his UFC career jumps off the page, especially in this matchup.
Once Nurmagomedov sinks his hooks in, though, opponents are going nowhere fast. Johnson is pretty mobile and doesn't usually fight off the fence, but Nurmagomedov has a way of putting guys there.
Prediction: Nurmagomedov submission, third round.