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Khabib Nurmagomedov eyeing February return, calls Anthony Pettis 'easy money'

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

One of the UFC's most intriguing lightweight contenders, Khabib Nurmagomedov, is now targeting a February return to action after tearing the meniscus in his right knee this past summer -- but the road to Nurmagomedov's rehabilitation has been more unusual than most.

After discovering that Nurmagomedov has been working through and paying for his own rehabilitation in Russia, UFC officials recently flew the Dagestani sambo champion out to Los Angeles to visit the same orthopedic physician who treated Georges St-Pierre and Conor McGregor for similarly problematic knee injuries, MMAFighting.com's Ariel Helwani reported on Wednesday's edition of UFC Tonight.

According to Helwani, the promotion subsequently situated Nurmagomedov in a Las Vegas apartment, where he will stay for the next five months and complete his recovery on the UFC's dime.

The No. 2 ranked lightweight on the UFC media-generated rankings, Nurmagomedov (22-0) sidelined himself in a now-infamous bit of bad luck, tearing his knee less than an hour after signing a contract to fight Donald Cerrone at UFC 178.

Of course much has happened in the time since, with Rafael dos Anjos' first-round knockout win over former champion/perennial number-one Benson Henderson shaking up the 155-pound division in a major way.

Nurmagomedov admitted to Helwani that he still wanted "smash" Cerrone, although he reiterated that he believes he is already the division's No. 1 contender after Gilbert Melendez, explaining that if dos Anjos beat both Cerrone and Henderson "100-percent," then he beat dos Anjos "200-percent" due to the lopsided nature of their contest.

The injured 25-year-old also had words for UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, an opponent who he characterized as "easy money" with "no good wrestling, no good defense."

The two lightweights have traded numerous barbs in the past, and indeed Nurmagomedov's injury has done little to slow the animosity from mounting over the past few months. Of late, Pettis has taken to repeatedly mispronouncing Nurmagomedov's name. It's a slight which Nurmagomedov vowed to rectify once his knee heals.

"He does not know how to say my name," Nurmagomedov told Helwani. "Next year, he will know how."