With a fight against Dustin Poirier happening in just a few days, Conor McGregor is attempting to keep his focus on UFC 257. But it’s nearly impossible for the former two-division champion to ignore the shadow of lightweight king Khabib Nurmagomedov looming over the event.
McGregor fell to Nurmagomedov by fourth-round rear naked choke in their previous meeting in 2018, and since that time, “The Notorious” has only competed once in a lopsided win over Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. Nurmagomedov went onto defend his title two more times before immediately calling it a career following a submission win over Justin Gaethje this past October.
The retirement announcement was a shock to everybody surrounding Nurmagomedov, who declared his intention to walk away from the sport after making a promise to his mother following the tragic death of his father earlier in 2020. Since that time, UFC President Dana White has continued to hint at Nurmagomedov’s eventual return, although a planned announcement regarding his decision to fight again or not ended without any actual clarification about his future.
White claimed Nurmagomedov said if something really impressed him from several upcoming lightweight fights, he might consider a return to action. McGregor was quick to shoot that down as a fact, but acknowledged his own desire to run things back with the lightweight champion if the opportunity is afforded to him.
“I don’t really care,” McGregor said about Nurmagomedov during the UFC 257 pre-fight press conference. “He did not say that, Dana said that. Let’s just get through the fight. All these men are up here, there’s plenty of challenges. It’s a tough business. Things have gone on in his personal life, I don’t wish him any harm. Like I said, it was in 2018, a lot of time has passed.
“The world knows this fight is not over. The war is not over. The sport needs it to happen. The people need it to happen. I’m not going to chase it if he doesn’t want it. That’s it. I’ll keep my calm and move on. That’s what I’m doing. I’m back here at the 155-pound division. I’ll show the world what’s what over time and that’s it. It begins on Saturday night against Dustin Poirier.”
Earlier in the week when McGregor made his arrival at the host hotel, he was actually standing just a few feet away from Nurmagomedov, who was in Abu Dhabi to corner his cousin Umar Nurmagomedov at UFC Fight Island 8 on Wednesday.
Numerous reporters on the ground noticed how the rivals were in close proximity to each other, which probably wouldn’t give anybody pause in normal situations. But McGregor and Nurmagomedov have engaged in a couple of outside the cage altercations that have only added to their disdain for each other.
For his part, McGregor wasn’t paying too much attention to Nurmagomedov’s whereabouts when he arrived on Fight Island. However, he can’t say for sure what might happen if they cross paths again.
“All of those events were 2018, it’s now 2021,” McGregor said. “What I will say is as long we fight again, there will be no issue. That’s it. If he continues to run, I’m not sure, we’ll see what happens.”
With so much indecision swirling around Nurmagomedov’s future, McGregor is advocating for the UFC to make a decision about the lightweight title still wrapped around the waist of the undefeated Russian.
If he’s coming back, McGregor is ready for the rematch. If not, the Irish superstar wants the division to move beyond Nurmagomedov, which means crowning a new lightweight champion.
“I would make the case if that man is continuing to dodge this and dodge the commitment of competing again, the title should be stripped and we should be engaging in a title fight,” McGregor said. “But I’m sure it will happen after this bout.
“I’m interested to hear what the excuse is or what will be said after the fight, but I predict a title strip.”