Khabib Nurmagomedov doesn’t expect to be holding his UFC lightweight title for much longer, according to a recent interview.
The UFC lightweight champion retired in October following a successful defense of his belt against Justin Gaethje in the main event of UFC 254. Since then, he’s spoken publicly about sticking to his plan to not compete again and said one of his reasons for retiring is to keep a promise to his mother. UFC President Dana White hasn’t closed the door on a Nurmagomedov return, however, and plans to meet with the 32-year-old fighter in Abu Dhabi in January.
Officially, Nurmagomedov is still recognized as the UFC’s lightweight titleholder.
On Monday, Nurmagomedov told Match TV he expects an upcoming main event between Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor at UFC 257 on Jan. 23 to determine who will go on to eventually become lightweight champion.
“Top three [lightweight] fighters right now?” Nurmagomedov said (translation from Russian via RT Sport). “Poirier, McGregor and [Islam] Makhachev. He is not in the top-five yet, but those are the best fighters.
“My belt will be taken by the winner of Dustin and Conor.”
A person close to Poirier’s camp told MMA Fighting that there has been no update on whether he and McGregor will actually compete for a title on Jan. 23. A UFC official did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
McGregor is a former two-division UFC champion at 145 and 155 pounds. The Irish star failed to regain the lightweight belt when he fought Nurmagomedov at UFC 229. Poirier, a former interim titleholder, also fell to Nurmagomedov when they met at UFC 242.
The Jan. 23 fight on Fight Island is a rematch of a meeting six years ago at featherweight where McGregor defeated Poirier by first-round TKO.
Nurmagomedov acknowledged that White is interested in booking him to fight again and that they will have a meeting to address the matter.
“We are in touch with Dana White, we have not discussed why the belt is not vacant,” Nurmagomedov said (translation via TASS). “Apparently they want me to come back. I have been in league for nine years, there is already a history, a fan base, their desires are clear.
“I will not hide the fact that they offer to return, offer conditions, [and] fighters. We will meet with Dana soon, we will discuss. I would not like there to be a possibility that I will return.”
MMA Fighting’s Damon Martin contributed to this report.
UPDATE: Nurmagomedov’s manager Ali Abdelaziz offered a clarification via Twitter to this story, which originally interpreted Nurmagomedov’s comments as stating that the UFC 257 main event could potentially crown a new champion. According to Abdelaziz, Nurmagomedov meant that he expects Poirier or McGregor to eventually fight for the lightweight title, not that their Jan. 23 bout would be for a title.