The future of the organization’s 155lbs frame has been shrouded in mystery since Nurmagomedov announced his decision inside the octagon moments after defeating Justin Gaethje by second-round submission in Abu Dhabi on October 24.
Since then, and despite attempts by UFC president Dana White to get Khabib to reverse his decision for at least one more fight, the undefeated Russian has remained steadfast in his desire to step away from the sport – a choice he made following the death of his father and coach, Abdulmanap, from complications related to Covid-19 in July.
For the first time in his retirement, the 29-0 MMA icon has now lifted the veil on the potential future destination of the UFC’s lightweight title.
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“Lightweight has always been very competitive,” Nurmagomedov told Match TV via translation by RT Sport.
“All major UFC events in 2020 were built around lightweight. First [it was] Conor’s comeback, then Gaethje against Ferguson. Then Poirier’s comeback. Then my fight with Gaethje. This weight [division] has always been interesting and competitive.”
As far as Nurmagomedov sees it, there are three clear standout fighters in the lightweight division – and two of them are fighting each other next month.
“Top three [lightweight] fighters right now?” he asked. “Poirier, McGregor and [Islam] Makhachev. He is not in the top five yet, but those are the best fighters.
“My belt will [eventually] be taken by the winner of Dustin and Conor.”
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Khabib said it was hard to foresee who Poirier or McGregor might later face in their title bid, and his comments suggest that he may intend to vacate the world title in advance of the January 23 rematch between McGregor and Poirier in Abu Dhabi.
The Dagestani revealed that the primary reason the belt remains around his waist is UFC president Dana White’s persistence in attempting to persuade him to consider a return to the cage.
“Dana and I are in touch and did not discuss the moment with the vacant belt,” he said. “This is because they want me to continue.
“This is clear – I have been in the league for nine years and have not lost. I have a story, a big fanbase.
“I don’t blame them and their desire is understandable. They persuade, I will not hide, but this is not surprising.
“They offer conditions and fighters, but it’s hard to surprise fighters. I finished half of the top 10 ahead of schedule.
“And so yes, I repeat: there are conditions and offers. In a couple of weeks, Dana and I will discuss all the points. I would not like to have the likelihood of my return.”
It had long been assumed by some that Nurmagomedov might consider a return to fight fellow icon Georges St-Pierre in an attempt to reach an unparalleled 30-0 record, but Khabib said there is just one opponent that he would return for – and not even a promoter of White’s acumen could pull this one off.
“I would have fought only with Muhammad Ali, but he is not with us,” he said.
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