Merab Dvalishvili says Umar Nurmagomedov has to earn fight with him, prefers Cory Sandhagen

MORRISTOWN, N.J. – Merab Dvalishvili felt somewhat disrespected that the UFC tried to rush him into a short-notice main event with Umar Nurmagomedov, though he would’ve been open to taking it under better circumstances.

Just days after Dvalishvili (16-4 MMA, 9-2 UFC) defeated Petr Yan by unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night 221 in March, the promotion approached him about a quick turnaround to face unbeaten surging contender Nurmagomedov (16-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC) in next week’s UFC on ABC 5 headliner.

Accepting the fight crossed Dvalishvili’s mind, he said, but ultimately a lingering hand injury, along with the fact he had already committed to helping his friend Aljamain Sterling prepare for Saturday’s UFC 288 title defense vs. Henry Cejudo, made the situation too problematic.

Additionally, Dvalishvili didn’t agree that Nurmagomedov is worthy of such a high-ranked fight.

“They did offer me Umar, but I was injured,” Dvalishvili told MMA Junkie on Thursday. “My hand was still not 100 percent. I did fight with my injured hand against Petr Yan, but to fight Umar and to book the fight, especially on May 13, a week after Aljo’s fight, it was no time and I’m helping Aljo and I’m not getting great training.

“Umar, I respect him, but he’s No. 11 and he only has four fights in UFC. I have 11 fights in UFC. I think he has to earn it more. He’s good fighter, but he has to fight more. This is not respect. I am No. 1. I have nine-fight win streak.”

Dvalishvili is not ignorant to the fact that UFC’s need for a marquee main event on network television is what ultimately prompted the offer, and in a way it’s a sign that he’s considered a valuable entity. Nevertheless, it simply was not realistic.

“I understand they need a main event – I understand why UFC offered me this fight with Umar,” Dvalishvili said. “I don’t say no. I was injured and they sent me to doctor and doctor say, ‘No, you can’t fight.’ I had pain and my joint was moving. I wasn’t able to even train because I have pain in my hand and I need training to fight Umar. … That fight doesn’t excite me because Umar is good fighter, but he has only four fights in UFC and he’s No. 11, and I’m No. 1. It’s not right.”

Once Saturday’s UFC 288 bantamweight title fight between Sterling and Cejudo plays out, the division will have more clarity as to its next steps. Dvalishvili fully expects Sterling to retain, however, meaning he will have another fight against a fellow contender.

Dvalishvili thinks Cory Sandhagen, who called him out after a recent win over Marlon Vera, is the right pairing, and he will be ready for that matchup to materialize.

“After this Saturday I will fight a real contender like Cory Sandhagen or somebody,” Dvalishvili said. “They told me Sandhagen is injured and I would rather wait for him. When he comes, that will be a great match. I would like to fight him because he’s nice guy and great fighter. I have respect for him and he deserves to fight me.”

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 288.


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Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie