As far as Conor McGregor is concerned, his reign atop the lightweight division is still going.
That may seem an odd declaration, given that “The Notorious” clearly lost by submission to Khabib Nurmagomedov when they fought two years ago. But that result hasn’t stopped McGregor from being supremely confident he would win a rematch, and now, he’s gone as far to say that what happened after their UFC 229 fight nullifies Nurmagomedov’s claim to undisputed championship status.
Nurmagomedov entered the cage on Oct. 6, 2018 with the UFC lightweight belt around his waist, and McGregor aimed to regain a title he’d never lost inside the cage. A prolonged feud preceded the fight, and Nurmagomedov immediately vaulted over the octagon fence after his victory, attacking McGregor’s cornerman. That act of aggression sparked a chaotic brawl featuring both fighters and their teammates.
In an interview with ESPN, McGregor pointed out that because of that incident, Nurmagomedov did not participate in the customary ceremony where the title is presented to the winner after the fight. In his eyes, that casts doubt on his rival’s championship status.
McGregor gave his opinion when answering a question about whether his upcoming bout at UFC 257 against Dustin Poirier should be for a vacant or interim title with Nurmagomedov having recently announced his retirement.
"Do you know that the unified title was never crowned? ... Khabib fled the cage and left me fighting with his family members in the cage.”@TheNotoriousMMA says he is still lightweight champion because the post-fight ceremony at UFC 229 never took place. (via @arielhelwani) pic.twitter.com/nWBGPsZMPQ— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) January 17, 2021
“Who knows?” McGregor said. “I was stripped of the featherweight belt before even getting an offer of a featherweight fight. I barely even got the second belt in the octagon in New York that time [at UFC 205]. I suppose Khabib and the death of his father, and they give the time and so on, I think that’s admirable also. I think the time is now though, it’s well past, and I feel this should be for the belt. If it’s not, no problem. I’m looking to have an active year, I’m looking to compete.
“I am the champion. Do you know that the unified title was never crowned? The unified title was never crowned that time in October 2018. Khabib fled the cage and left me fighting with his family members in the cage. The post-fight ceremony never took place, so I still feel like I am the champion here, and I will go in and prove that. I’ll prove that with my performances and time will show. The cream always rises to the top, and the world is about to see it.”
McGregor has spoken about a potential rematch on multiple occasions, but he appears to have accepted that a second fight with Nurmagomedov won’t happen. He recently said that he wasn’t surprised to see Nurmagomedov “scurry away” as opposed to pursuing more challenges.
Nurmagomedov met with UFC President Dana White in Abu Dhabi this weekend, and White gave a vague update on Nurmagomedov’s retirement status during Saturday’s UFC Fight Island 7 broadcast, stating that Nurmagomedov wants to see how the lightweights scheduled for UFC 257 perform before deciding if he comes back to fight again.
Whatever decision Nurmagomedov makes, McGregor doesn’t think he’ll be part of it.
“I think he’s afraid to fight me, that’s for damn sure, and I don’t blame him,” McGregor said. “I fought the best of him on that night, he fought the worst of me on that night. He knows it, I know it, his team knows it. I have the answer to destroy that man. He can pull the wool over people’s eyes for only so long.
“It is what it is, I know there’s surrounding things regarding the family and that, and if he’s retired and that’s it, I wish him well. But I am who I am and I am at the top, so time will show.”
Addressing rumors that he and Nurmagomedov were in talks to coach a season of The Ultimate Fighter, McGregor said White had brought the idea to him, but it never progressed past the planning stages. McGregor doubts that Nurmagomedov’s side would have signed on to do the long-running reality show.
McGregor and Nurmagomedov have butted heads for years, with their rivalry becoming deeply personal. Despite that, McGregor says he hasn’t sensed animosity in his visit to the United Arab Emirates, a region recognized as Nurmagomedov territory.
“My situation with Khabib is strictly personal between myself and himself, it’s not to do with anything else regardless of what certain individuals try and claim,” McGregor said. “I have been treated very well here, the people here have been amazing to me, it’s very hospitable. It’s not my first time fighting in the region also, I’ve competed in Amman, Jordan before. I’m very excited to be back.
“It’s been great to be here in Dubai, and I’m very excited to get to Abu Dhabi and just relish in the culture and just enjoy the experience. I’m enjoying it immensely so far.”
Saturday marks the UFC’s first pay-per-view of the year, and McGregor expects it to be as successful as his lone appearance of 2020, which took place last January. McGregor recently boasted that UFC 246 was 2020’s highest-selling PPV. He predicts that UFC 257 could approach the two million-buy mark.
It’s his proven drawing power that has McGregor shrugging off a Nurmagomedov rematch as he doesn’t think “The Eagle” can hold a candle to him at the box office. Nurmagomedov’s UFC 254 title fight against Justin Gaethje reportedly sold about 500,000 PPVs in the U.S., and that relatively modest number has McGregor confident that the UFC will move on without Nurmagomedov.
“I’m here for it, I’m ready for it, I would like it to,” McGregor said of a 2021 rematch with Nurmagomedov. “If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I wonder what he’s gonna say, like I said, you can only pull the wool over someone’s eyes for so long. Dana probably could have stripped the belt from him that night.
“All that was put into him for that event, the pay-per-view flopped, and then a retirement. How long will it last? It doesn’t last that long in this business. It’s a ‘what have you done for me lately’ business, and the clock is ticking for sure, so we’ll see what happens.”