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Khabib Nurmagomedov: Kevin Lee fought Tony Ferguson ‘like chicken’ at UFC 216

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Khabib Nurmagomedov wasn’t impressed by Kevin Lee’s performance at UFC 216.

Nurmagomedov, the undefeated UFC lightweight contender who is anticipating a return on Dec. 30 at UFC 219, has been a common trash-talk target of Lee’s over recent months, and on Monday, Nurmagomedov finally fired back, taking aim at Lee’s approach to UFC 216 and conditioning when asked about the American’s third-round interim title loss to Tony Ferguson.

“I think [Ferguson] won because Kevin Lee was fighting with him like chicken. That’s why he won,” Nurmagomedov said Monday on The MMA Hour. “[Lee] talked too much. He was not focused on the fight; he was focused on, I think, promoting the fight. When the fight was beginning, first round, [Lee] beat [Ferguson], and second round, [Lee] stayed with him in his distance, he ate a lot of jabs, and third round, he gave up, because he doesn’t have conditioning. That’s why.”

The owner of an 8-0 Octagon record, Nurmagomedov has been sidelined since dropping out of a planned interim title fight against Ferguson at UFC 209 back in early March. Nurmagomedov was infamously transported to the hospital due to complications cutting weight the day before UFC 209 weigh-ins, leading the proposed fight against Ferguson to fall apart for the third time in as many bookings.

Nurmagomedov also underwent additional back surgery after UFC 209, however now the Dagestani contender is fully healthy and readying for his Octagon return. On Monday, Nurmagomedov called for the UFC to rebook his interim title fight against Ferguson for UFC 219, which would pave the way for the promotion to stage a big-money trilogy match between UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz. And after watching Lee’s early performance against “El Cucuy,” Nurmagomedov is confident he has the skillset to solve Ferguson’s puzzle.

“(Rafael) dos Anjos and Kevin Lee fought with him at his distance. That’s why these guys [lost to] him,” Nurmagomedov said. “But what happens if Ferguson fights a fighter like me, who all the time tries to take him down, smash him on the ground, and never, never stop? All my life, in my amateur career, professional 24 fights, I never tire. Never, ever. In training, amateur fights, and professional fights, I never get tired.

“All my life, I never tire, I never lose, and I never give up. In training, in amateur fights, in professional fights, I’ve never given up. Never. Nobody has choked me, nobody has submitted me. Never, ever, in all my life. I’m training with a lot of fighters from different weight classes — heavyweight, welterweight, lightweight. You can ask ‘DC,’ you can ask Luke Rockhold, all fighters: I never give up and I never get tired. This is what I want to say about this.”

Nurmagomedov knows there’s a good chance he may not get what he wants.

Since winning the interim title, Ferguson has publicly moved on from Nurmagomedov and has instead been campaigning to fight McGregor in a title unification match. UFC president Dana White also threw his support behind McGregor vs. Ferguson, however McGregor vs. Diaz 3 remains a very real possibility simply because of the large sums of money the fight would bring to McGregor and the UFC.

If that ends up being the case, Nurmagomedov said he would happily sign to fight Edson Barboza on Dec. 30 instead of Ferguson. But after everything that’s happened in his life since UFC 209, Nurmagomedov feels strongly that he and Ferguson have unfinished business that should be resolved first.

“It’s a very tough sport,” Nurmagomedov said. “Nobody knows (what happens behind the scenes).

“Last time when I had to fight with Tony, I thought, ‘I’m confident 100 percent the fight will happen, and I have to beat Tony to take the belt, and then at the end of the year I’m going to fight with Conor.’ But everybody knows what happened. And now I have the same feeling. I have the same feeling, and next time I have to stay a little bit careful, more control my weight, more control my health and my everything.

“All the time when I come back, I come back stronger than ever,” Nurmagomedov continued. “This is what I want to show people around the world, how I improved myself. And maybe people think I don’t train — I feel 100 percent. When I watched how Kevin Lee beat Tony Ferguson in the first round, I think [I became] confident, 100 percent, I can finish this guy in the second or third round.”