Anthony Pettis' first encounter with Khabib Nurmagomedov came last year on Twitter. Since then, Nurmagomedov has been relentless, both in his pursuit of the UFC lightweight title and his trash talk of Pettis, the champion. But back then, Pettis admits he wasn't exactly sure what to make of the correspondence.
"A little bit it got under my skin, so I got back at him," Pettis told MMA Fighting on Monday at a media lunch in New York. "I didn't know who he was honestly when I initially tweeted him back. I was like, who is this guy? Then I saw him fight Pat Healy. I wasn't impressed -- just another tough wrestler guy. Then he beat [Rafael] dos Anjos. Ehh."
Pettis (17-2), who defends his title against Gilbert Melendez in the co-main event of UFC 181 on Saturday in Las Vegas, isn't sure if Nurmagomedov has done quite enough to earn the next title shot. "Showtime" doesn't think victories of dos Anjos and Healy are enough to warrant a No. 1 contender position.
"Both of them guys haven't proven enough to be in title contention," Pettis said. "Maybe if he fights someone like [Donald] Cerrone or whoever the next guy is. Maybe Myles Jury."
Nurmagomedov (22-0) has been extremely vocal about Pettis recently, especially since he has improved his English. The dominant Dagestani wrestler has called Pettis a "paper champion" and said a fight against him would be "easy money."
"I think he [doesn't] want this fight," Nurmagomedov said of Pettis on The MMA Hour in September. "I am no good for his style. My pressure, my wrestling, my top control, it's no good for him. He said he wants to fight Nate Diaz. Nate Diaz lose many times in the UFC, and I am undefeated. I am the next contender. But he's not saying ‘Khabib is good, Khabib is undefeated, Khabib is 6-0,' he's not saying nothing. I think he [doesn't] want this fight."
Pettis has not ruled out a fight with Nurmagomedov and concedes that the No. 1 contender if he beats Melendez on Saturday is up in the air. And maybe it could be Nurmagomedov, who is currently recovering from knee surgery.
"I think he's right there," Pettis said "It's kind of weird after this fight. I didn't look after this fight yet, but the question was asked. Who knows? If he didn't have a knee injury, maybe he would be next if the timing matches up."
Pettis himself has not even defended the belt yet. He beat Benson Henderson to win the lightweight title at UFC 164 in August 2013 and has not fought since. "Showtime" had knee surgery late last year and then spent the summer filming The Ultimate Fighter 20 opposite Melendez. But he relishes the other contenders in the loaded lightweight division gunning for him.
"I love it," Pettis said. "Everybody has to look at me and want what I have around my waist. I only have to fight them one at a time."
As for Nurmagomedov? Pettis said he just needs to wait his turn, whenever that might come up.
"He's an up-and-comer," Pettis said. "He's pleading his case, he wants a title shot. He's undefeated. Title shots are hard to get. I know from experience."