LOS ANGELES — Khabib Nurmagomedov has a plan laid out for 2018.
After an expected win over Edson Barboza at UFC 219 on Dec. 30 in Las Vegas, Nurmagomedov expects to fight Tony Ferguson to decide who is the best lightweight in the world in April or May. Then, if no injuries rear their head, “The Eagle” wants to defend the title in September.
The one key part missing from Nurmagomedov’s blueprint: the UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor. Nurmagomedov said he is not taking “The Notorious” into account at all. He believes that him against interim champ Ferguson will decide the true best 155-pounder.
“This is real fight,” Nurmagomedov said Tuesday at a UFC 219 media lunch. “This is most important fight right now. But of course I’m gonna focus on Edson Barboza. To be honest, I think about Edson and Tony Ferguson. I don’t think about Conor McGregor.”
McGregor has not fought in the UFC since winning the belt by second-round knockout over Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 in November. He crossed over to boxing back in August and made about $100 million for a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather.
On a TMZ camera last week, McGregor said he’d be competing in MMA next. But even UFC president Dana White has said he doesn’t know if McGregor will ever fight in the UFC again.
Perhaps that’s why it’s easy for Nurmagomedov to omit him from his 2018 plans.
“Conor is in a different situation,” Nurmagomedov said. “He is very big star. UFC wants to put him everywhere, ‘Oh we have Conor McGregor UFC champ.’ He don’t want somebody to smash his face. This is what I think. But he have to defend his title or Tony Ferguson has to become real champ. My opinion, I’m gonna beat Edson Barboza and Tony Ferguson becomes real champ and we have to fight in April or May.”
Nurmagomedov, 29, believes McGregor has an obligation as the champion to defend the title often. He said Georges St-Pierre won the middleweight belt from Michael Bisping last month at UFC 217 and has already vacated it because he’s staring at a lengthy absence due to ulcerative colitis.
“If you don’t have injury, if you’re healthy, if you’re champion, you have to defend it, of course,” Nurmagomedov said. “If you’re regular fighter, you can fight whenever you want. … He has to defend his belt. This is not about money. This is sport.”
That’s not to say Nurmagomedov believes UFC fans have seen the last of McGregor. On the contrary.
“I think when [he loses his money],” the Dagestani fighter said, “he’s gonna come back.”