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If he were in Max Holloway’s spot, Khabib Nurmagomedov said he wouldn’t have accepted UFC 223 fight

Khabib Nurmagomedov is very glad Max Holloway stepped up to face him at UFC 223 on Saturday in Brooklyn. If Nurmagomedov were in Holloway’s spot, though, he would not have done the same thing.

The undefeated lightweight star told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour that he would not have taken the short-notice fight, with Tony Ferguson dropping out, if he were Holloway. Especially since Holloway pulled out of a featherweight title defense against Frankie Edgar a month ago at UFC 222 due to an ankle injury.

Nurmagomedov said he believes Holloway is just fighting for the money.

“I care about my legacy,” Nurmagomedov said. “I don’t want to fight for the money. I don’t fight for the money. Every person is different.”

Nurmagomedov, 29, said he heard Ferguson was out Sunday, but thought at first it must be an April Fool’s joke. “The Eagle” said that he figured it was fake even more when the UFC said they had an opponent ready to take Ferguson’s place in a lightweight title fight. It turned out that it was very real. The surprise is still there for Nurmagomedov, though, who said he still can’t help but be focused on Ferguson.

The idea that Holloway actually accepted this challenge is still an odd one for Nurmagomedov to digest. He would not have bailed the UFC out like that, he said.

“If UFC has a problem, it’s UFC’s problem,” Nurmagomedov said. “That’s why my name is Khabib. UFC’s name is UFC. I care about my legacy. … Why any one take [fight] six days before fights? I would not do this.”

Holloway, though, is en route to Brooklyn from his native Hawaii and he’ll be at Barclays Center to stand across the Octagon from Nurmagomedov. The Dagestan native said he’ll fight Holloway even if Holloway misses weight, as long as he’ll still be eligible to win the lightweight title. And no, Nurmagemedov is not taking Holloway lightly, despite the short notice and Holloway’s ankle injury.

“I scared about this when I think about this,” Nurmagomedov said. “I don’t want to underestimate this guy. This guy has 12[-fight] win streak in the UFC. One of the greatest who ever compete in UFC.”

In fact, Nurmagomedov said he believes Holloway would fare very well against Ferguson if the two fought. He said he believes Holloway would win a striking battle against Ferguson.

“I don’t want to think it’s much easier fight than Tony Ferguson,” Nurmagomedov said. “I don’t think. I think if they fight, Max Holloway would give him big problem.”

Nurmagomedov thanks Holloway for accepting this fight. He said he doesn’t want to take fights not for a title anymore and if it wasn’t Holloway, then a belt might not have been offered. So, Nurmagomedov is grateful. He just wants to make sure Holloway knows what he’s getting into.

“No one is like me,” Nurmagomedov said. “Nobody [was] wrestling with him [in past fights]. But now, he is on different territory, different weight class, different animals. Everything is different.”

There is some truth to that. But this is the situation heading into fight week in Brooklyn: Holloway will be pulling one of the more bold moves in recent UFC memory, moving up a division on six days notice to fight one of the most fearsome competitors to ever step in a cage.

Nurmagomedov doesn’t think he’d do the same, but is happy Holloway has decided on it.

“He wants to fight for the money,” Nurmagomedov said. “I respect him. Aloha, Max. He champion for a reason at 145.”

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