Twice within the past month, Khabib Nurmagomedov believed he'd landed a marquee match-up against a top-5 foe. In both instances, though, verbal agreements fell through before a deal could be finalized -- first with Gilbert Melendez, then with Nate Diaz -- and now Nurmagomedov, the UFC's No. 7 ranked lightweight contender, remains high and dry without an opponent.
"I think that I earned this fight," Nurmagomedov said through his translator, manager Sam Kardan, on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "I think that I deserve it. Just like Glover Teixeira is fighting (Jon Jones), he's got a 20-win (streak), 5-0 in the UFC, and now he's got a title shot. Where as, I'm not asking for a title shot at this time. I think this fight with Melendez makes sense. I think I earned it. I'm 21-0, 5-0 in the UFC.
"I guess either Melendez or Diaz need to work things out with the UFC. I'm ready. I'm working out, I'm exercising, I'm in top shape. I'm ready to fight."
White's assertion ruffled some feathers, particularly among the Diaz camp, although the entire situation has left Nurmagomedov more than a little frustrated in his own right.
"I wouldn't go so far as to say everyone is afraid to fight me," the undefeated Dagestani said. "I'm not thinking that.
"I understand that it's going to be a tough fight for them. I'm really kind of a no-name, or I don't have as much of a name in the U.S. right now as they do. So a loss to somebody like myself would definitely set them back. I do get that. I do get the business aspect of it, but I think that they should definitely fight. If they say that they're willing to fight the best, they should fight the best. If they want, I'll take them both at once in the cage."
Currently the No. 13 ranked lightweight in the UFC, Johnson wasted little time casting his name into the Nurmagomedov sweepstakes on Twitter. Thus far, though, Nurmagomedov has appeared less than enthusiastic about the idea.
"My goal is to fight Melendez, (TJ) Grant or Diaz, just because I feel like they would be much of a challenge to me in the fight," Nurmagomedov said. "Michael Johnson, I would say that if one of those three doesn't accept a fight with me, I may have to fight him. But [Johnson] has losses in the UFC by decision, by submission, so I don't think he poses as much of a challenge at this point."
Nurmagomedov, along with UFC running mate Rustam Khabilov and Red Fury teammates Adlan Amagov and Shahbulat Shamhalaev, among others, have led the charge for the recent wave of Russian fighters who have proven to be viable contenders stateside. Although, when asked, the 25-year-old says the Russian invasion was simply a matter of time.
"There have always been great fighters. Fighting is part of the culture in Russia and Dagestan, Chechnya in particular," Nurmagomedov explained. "It's just a matter of not having the proper management. About a year and a half ago, Sam Kardan started bringing some of the fighters, like myself, Adlan Amagov, a bunch of guys, and it's really just an opportunity that wasn't present before. But now you're going to see a lot of good fighters coming in, a lot of guys that are training specifically for the UFC. When I go train at my gym here (in Russia), there's a lot of young guys actually giving me a really hard time, so I think that you're going to see a lot of great fighters coming out of that region."
At this point Nurmagomedov is unsure which direction UFC matchmakers plan to take in regards to his next fight, although he still hopes Diaz or Melendez reconsider their misgivings. Ideally Nurmagomedov would like to compete in April, but he is ready and willing to go whenever UFC officials make that phone call.
"This message is for Nate or Melendez," Nurmagomedov said in closing. "If you guys take this fight, I promise, I won't hit you hard. I'll just wrestle you."