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Khabib Nurmagomedov opens up about UFC 209 withdrawal: ‘I feel I almost died’

The biggest fight week of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s career turned into a nightmare overnight at UFC 209.

By now it’s no secret that Nurmagomedov was forced to withdraw from his long-anticipated interim UFC lightweight title fight against Tony Ferguson last month at UFC 209 after falling ill and being transported to the hospital just hours before the event’s Friday morning weigh-ins. The turn of events was shocking, thrusting the UFC’s pay-per-view into disarray at the eleventh hour and sinking a planned Ferguson-Nurmagomedov tilt for the third time.

Nurmagomedov has been largely quiet since, electing to remain out of the spotlight while focusing on his recovery. But on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour, the undefeated Dagestani explained his side of the story about a period that he called “the hardest month in my life.”

And for Nurmagomedov, the first sign that anything was amiss arrived on Thursday of fight week, shortly after the completion of UFC 209 media day.

“In the evening, I feel badly. I feel different. I never feel like this,” Nurmagomedov explained on The MMA Hour. “One day before weigh-in, of course I don’t feel good all the time, but I think this is like something different. And when I go home the night before weigh-ins, I feel crazy. I’m cutting weight with my team, and I don’t remember how I cut weight. I don’t remember a lot of things, something going wrong.

“I feel so bad. I never feel like this.”

Nurmagomedov said the stomach pain he felt while cutting weight eventually became so dire that his team rushed him to the hospital in the middle of the night. He felt close to death, he said, and doctors quickly barred him from even entertaining the option of a catchweight fight against Ferguson.

“The doctor say, ‘you cannot fight. You almost die. How you fight? How you can fight if you almost die? ... No way. We say no fight, 100 percent. No make weight. No fight. No nothing. You need to stay in the hospital for seven hours, we have to make sure your body is good.’ But I feel I almost died,” Nurmagomedov said.

“We know a lot of times when you’re cutting weight, you can die. I know one month ago somebody died in Brazil. Before, somebody died in Japan. We know sometimes this happens. But this can happen with me too. If we still cutting weight, and we still force my body, maybe I can die too?

“But it’s okay,” Nurmagomedov added. “Sometimes when I have injury or when I have bad situation, I all the time come back strong. Now, I know a lot of people asked about this, a lot of fans asked about this because this is a very big fight. The UFC promote this fight very good. We promote this fight. A lot of people are waiting for this fight. I know a lot of fans are upset about this, and I understand this, but I want to say sorry about everything. And I come back. I’m going to come back.”

Nearly a month after his unfortunate withdrawal, Nurmagomedov has still not been able to return to training. He said he just came back from Germany, where he underwent testing to determine the root of his stomach problems. While he did not specify what was discovered, Nurmagomedov said he is returning to Germany soon to undergo treatment and “fix” his body.

Nurmagomedov declined to elaborate on what that treatment would be, other than saying that it was something done of his own volition, and not at the UFC’s request. Nurmagomedov said he hopes to be back to full strength within three to five months, and he reiterated several times that his issues have nothing to do with how much weight he cuts.

“I don’t think I’m cutting too much weight,” Nurmagomedov said. “I make weight, 155.5 pounds, when I fight with Michael Johnson (at UFC 205) and I feel very good. I feel perfect. I make weight no problem.

“I’m just coming from Germany. I need like three or five months to make my body the same, three or five months of rehab. And obviously I’m going to Germany, I’m going to fix everything. This problem, this is not about cutting weight. This is about my health, and I have to [fix] my health in three or five months, and I’m going to come back. I think I can fight end of September.

“In Germany I’m going to check my body, what happened, everything,” Nurmagomedov added. “And I have a little bit of a problem with something, but I don’t want to talk about this. But I need a couple months to fix everything.”

Nurmagomedov said he is eyeing a possible return fight at the end of September and wants it to be against Ferguson. He also dismissed the idea of moving up to welterweight.

“I never fight 170, because I can make [155]. I make 155 all of my career,” Nurmagomedov said. “I make all my amateur career at 155. All the time, I can make and I will make 155. Of course, before, I think about ‘maybe I fight at 170, superfight,’ something like this. But I want to say that I never fight 170. Never. I know this. This is not changing. I am going to fight only 155, and now I have difference motivations. I want [figure out] how I can make 155 and how I can become UFC lightweight champion. This is my different and new motivation.”

Nurmagomedov apologized several times for a situation that he knows left a lot of people disappointed. The undefeated sambo master has been considered a top contender within the UFC lightweight division for many years, but his rise to gold has consistently been stunted by luckless circumstances, from the string of injuries that kept him sidelined for most of 2014 and 2015, to the late-night sickness that torpedoed his title shot at UFC 209.

Nurmagomedov glumly said he almost doesn’t remember what it’s like to be healthy for a prolonged stretch of time, but he vowed to fix his issues over the next few months. He also had kind words for UFC president Dana White, who he said supported him through the ordeal.

“I want to say thank you to him,” Nurmagomedov said. “I know sometimes he goes crazy when somebody pulls out, but I understand. I understand everything. I am professional fighter and I have to make weight and this is my job, but sometimes you cannot control your body, and you do everything. This is my fault. I know, 100 percent, this my fault. But we will see what happens next time. I’m going to come back. This is not finished. This is not finished, my career. I’m going to fix my body and come back.”

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