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Khabib Nurmagomedov targets May return, plans to win title and defend it before 2015 is over

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

LOS ANGELES -- Khabib Nurmagomedov has the rest of this year all mapped out.

The rising UFC lightweight is targeting a return to the Octagon from a knee injury at UFC 187 on May 23 in Las Vegas. Nurmagomedov is hoping for a matchup with Donald Cerrone. After what he expects to be a victory, the Dagestani star wants to fight for the title and then defend the belt -- all before 2015 is up. It was reported this past week on UFC Tonight that the UFC is targeting the Cerrone-Nurmagomedov bout for the Memorial Day Weekend card.

"This is my plan," Nurmagomedov told "I want, in this year, three fights -- Cerrone, after that I fight for the belt and after that I defend the belt."

The undefeated Nurmagomedov (22-0) was here last weekend as part of the Paradise Warrior Retreat seminar program at TheFitExpo inside the Los Angeles Convention Center. He said he has just begun training at 100 percent. Nurmagomedov has been rehabbing in Las Vegas under the watchful eye of the UFC, which has provided him an apartment and a car.

Nurmagomedov, 26, tore his meniscus last July, just days after he and Cerrone verbally agreed to a fight at UFC 178 in September. Before that, the two were going to clash in July, but Nurmagomedov, a Muslim, was fasting for Ramadan. Nurmagomedov believes he and "Cowboy" have some unfinished business -- plus the bout just makes sense from a rankings perspective.

"I told them this is a very good matchup," Nurmagomedov said. "I'm No. 2, he's No. 3. Who wins gets a title shot."

Eight weeks before his first fight back, Nurmagomedov will head back to American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., the place he calls home during training camps. In the mean time, the focus will be getting everything fine-tuned.

The one thing Nurmagomedov has excelled at during this time off due to injury is keeping himself relevant. His English has improved exponentially and he is a regular on Twitter, calling out Cerrone and UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. Nurmagomedov is quick to correct, though, when asked about his trash-talking.

"I'm not a trash talker," Nurmagomedov said. "I say truth, you understand? I say and I do. Why was Muhammad Ali the greatest? Because he say and he do. I am 22-0. I am not 22-10."

Nurmagomedov said he doesn't speak Russian at all when he's in the United States. He sticks to English, even with his brother, and said he's getting better at it every day. He believes learning the language is vital for him as he continues to succeed as a professional athlete.

"English for me is very important," Nurmagomedov said. "I speak with my fans, everything. I like English."

Nurmagomedov has won all six of his fights in the UFC, mowing down his opponents. His last victory came via unanimous decision against Rafael dos Anjos at UFC on FOX 11 in April 2014. Dos Anjos has won two in a row since then and now meets Pettis in a title bout at UFC 185 on March 14 in Dallas.

Of course, Nurmagomedov wouldn't mind getting Pettis right away. But he knows how these things work, which is why he has no problem accepting a fight with Cerrone first.

"I want Cerrone," Nurmagomedov said.

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