At UFC 209, Khabib Nurmagomedov will compete for the interim lightweight title against Tony Ferguson in the co-main event, but the fight takes place while current champion Conor McGregor still looms large over the division.
McGregor won the belt last November with a rousing performance against Eddie Alvarez but now just four months later a new interim champion will be crowned in his absence while he awaits the birth of his first child in May.
Add to that, McGregor has been attached to a rumored fight with Floyd Mayweather, which raises even more doubts about when he could return to defend his lightweight championship in the UFC.
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The politics surrounding the title and McGregor’s return to defend the belt don’t bother Nurmagomedov one bit because he joined the UFC roster to become the best lightweight in the world and that was his goal long before he had ever even heard of the man nicknamed “The Notorious”.
“I don’t give a [expletive] about Conor,” Nurmagomedov said at his Q&A session ahead of UFC 209. “I think about only belt. When I come to the UFC, I never thought about Conor ‘oh I want to fight with him, make money’ something like this. I think about only the belt.
“I think I beat Tony Ferguson, after Conor says he doesn’t want to defend his title because he never defends his title and I’ll fight with another tough contender. I don’t know who, maybe [Michael] Chiesa or [Edson] Barboza, somebody like this.”
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As much as Nurmagomedov won’t define his title reign based on a fight with McGregor in the UFC, he still finds value in the matchup for different reasons than you might expect.
While most fighters look at a fight with McGregor as the best way to drive up to the ATM and just start pulling out money, Nurmagomedov believes a fight with the current lightweight champion will be a service to the UFC.
The way Nurmagomedov sees it is that McGregor’s ego has driven him to the point where he’s no long loyal to the organization who made him and now the Russian wrecking machine will take it upon himself to hand him some humility if they ever meet in the Octagon.
“What’s interesting, I think UFC have to make plans a little bit. This chicken is no loyal guy,” Nurmagomedov said. “I know this. If you remember, the first time he fights in the UFC, after the fight he said ‘$50 G’s baby’ something like this, he asked to Dana please give me $50,000. He said give me $50,000. The UFC made him. If he never fought in the UFC, how he become like this? Now he has name, now he talk about he can fight without the UFC in boxing. For me this is disrespect to UFC. Now I think the UFC has to make plan. They have to put PR machine [behind me].
“This is true. UFC promote him all the time because the UFC has a very big PR machine. Now I think the UFC have to make plan. They have to promote me. Make fight like me versus him after I beat Tony Ferguson. I’m going to smash this guy. This is what I have to do for the UFC. This is how I see this situation. Because we have to make him humble.”
Despite a very strong message being sent to McGregor by the No. 1 ranked contender, Nurmagomedov makes it clear that his interest in the fight has nothing to do with money or notoriety.
Nurmagomedov’s mission is to become the best lightweight in the world and running through McGregor is just an added bonus but he’s just not certain the fight will ever happen.
“I want to fight for the title because I come to the UFC to fight for the title,” Nurmagomedov said. “When you have money it’s good. More money, more problems.
“[McGregor] understands who is who. I don’t think he wants to defend his title.”