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Khabib Nurmagomedov says bout with Tony Ferguson is biggest lightweight fight in UFC history

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Khabib Nurmagomedov
Khabib Nurmagomedov believes his fight with Tony Ferguson is the biggest ever in the UFC lightweight division.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Not only does Khabib Nurmagomedov think his fight with Tony Ferguson should be the main event of UFC 209 this weekend. He believes there has not been a bigger 155-pound bout in UFC history before now.

“A lot of people are gonna watch this fight,” Nurmagomedov told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. “My fanbase is huge. This is very big fight. In my opinion, this is the greatest lightweight fight ever in the UFC.”

Nurmagomedov (24-0) will face Ferguson in the highly anticipated interim title fight in the co-headliner of Saturday’s event in Las Vegas. The winner should face UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor next, but Nurmagomedov knows that’s up in the air with McGregor talking about Floyd Mayweather Jr.

“Nobody knows what happened,” Nurmagomedov said. “Maybe they’re gonna make money match, like money fight. … I am focused on Tony. I don’t think about that other thing.”

Ferguson and Nurmagomedov went back and forth on a conference call last week, exchanging some pretty heated trash talk. “The Eagle” likes that sort of thing, but Nurmagomedov said the time for words is now over with both men arriving in Vegas this week.

“I feel like Tony is a little bit nervous, like all of my opponents,” Nurmagomedov said. “But for me, it’s fun. I enjoy this. I talk with him, I enjoy a little bit joke with him, make him nervous.

“Now, everything has changed. the talk is finished. We’re here. We’re in Vegas. It’s five days before the fight. Fight week. I can’t wait for the cage to close.”

This opportunity has been a long time coming for Nurmagomedov, even if it’s not a shot at the undisputed title. The Dagestan native is undefeated and has run roughshod over the UFC’s lightweight division since 2012. The only thing that has really held him back is injuries. Nurmagomedov, 28, sealed this fight by beating Michael Johnson by third-round submission at UFC 205 in November.

On that night, Nurmagomedov probably should have been fighting Eddie Alvarez for the belt, but McGregor, then the UFC featherweight champion, got the shot instead. Nurmagomedov gets it. McGregor was the money fight. Now, he sees the UFC marketing him. Earlier this month, the promotion had Nurmagomedov do a Q&A in a Russian area of Brooklyn where a lot of fans came out to see him.

“Now UFC gonna try to make my name big,” Nurmagomedov said. … “Now, I understand.”

His star will only rise greater if he beats Ferguson at UFC 209. Maybe then he’ll be the money fight against McGregor. That kind of notoriety, though, is something Nurmagomedov is a bit apprehensive about.

“I worry about famous,” he said. “Of course I want the belt, but I understand with belts coming crazy attention. To be honest, I worry about this, because I like when people don’t know me. When all the time people coming, talking about fights, taking about fights, fights or talking about MMA. I can talk with people in other stuff, not only MMA. But sometime, I’m tired about this. But I understand. MMA is like crazy now. This is not like five years ago, 10 years ago. Now MMA is like one of the biggest sports in the world. I think after this fight it’s gonna change a lot of stuff.”