The intrigue over Khabib Nurmagomedov’s fighting future continues, but the man himself has already spoken about who might eventually take over his mantle as UFC lightweight champion.
Nurmagomedov (29-0 MMA, 13-0 UFC) announced his retirement in the octagon following his UFC 254 win over Justin Gaethje and, while the undefeated Russian has given little indication that he’s open to a return to the cage, UFC president Dana White has remained confident that he can persuade “The Eagle” back to the UFC. Notably, the UFC has not yet declared the lightweight title to be vacant.
However, in a recent interview with Match TV, Nurmagomedov discussed the future of the UFC lightweight title and suggested that the winner of the UFC 257 clash between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier could eventually succeed him as UFC lightweight champion.
“My belt will be taken by the winner of Dustin and Conor,” Nurmagomedov said, via translation from RT Sport. However, he went on to explain that no plans for him vacating the title have been discussed with the UFC.
“Dana and I are in touch and did not discuss the moment with the vacant belt. This is because they want me to continue. This is clear. I have been in the (UFC) for nine years and have not lost. I have a story, a big fan base. 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.”
Some initially interpreted Nurmagomedov’s words to mean that he would relinquish his title and the UFC 257 headliner would become a battle for the vacant lightweight strap. But his position was clarified by his manager, Ali Abdelaziz, who rubbished the initial reports on Twitter, saying, “Enough with the fake news. Khabib said the winner of this fight will fight for the title, he didn’t say the winner will become champion. #ClickBait”
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Nurmagomedov revealed following his retirement that his decision was taken after his mother requested him to stop fighting following the passing of his father, Abdulmanap, from complications related to COVID-19 back in July.
Nurmagomedov has since taken over Dagestan-based promotion Gorilla Fighting Championship, rebranded it as Eagle Fighting Championship, and now hopes to secure a streaming partnership deal with UFC Fight Pass. Regardless of his status as an active fighter, Nurmagomedov feels the UFC’s 155-pound division is in good hands.
“Lightweight has always been very competitive,” he said. “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.”