Will he or won’t he? That’s the big question surrounding Khabib Nurmagomedov’s retirement plans.
It has been widely reported that Nurmagomedov plans to retire after his 30th fight. It was supposed to be his late father’s wish. He talked about that earlier this year. And it was only last week when he told Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports that “30-0 is going to be great” and that it’s going to be like the “Mayweather of MMA.”
That story has a point. Nurmagomedov is unbeaten in 28 fights and he has almost cleaned up the UFC’s lightweight division. He says that he has no plans of moving up in weight so if he defeats Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 this Saturday, he will have defeated the top threats in his weight class. Well, perhaps except Tony Ferguson, who was supposed to be his dancing partner this weekend before losing to Gaethje at UFC 249.
But in a more recent interview with BT Sport, the Eagle claims that the talks about his retirement are overstated. Said the UFC lightweight king:
“This is what I love to do. This is what gives me good energy. And I love the competition. I really want to compete with high-level guys in this sport. And that’s why I’m here…..I don’t know why people talk about my retirement. Maybe you guys tired of me? A lot of media ask me about my retirement. But I want to compete. I like competition. I really want to compete with high-level guys. That’s why I’m here. All my life, I am doing this. And right now, I have a perfect opponent. He’s very tough, a lot of people talk about he’s going to be the worst match for me, but we’ll see.”
It was after Khabib’s victory over Dustin Poirier at UFC 242 when Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov told Russian media outlet TASS that “30-0 is enough for Khabib”. The elder Nurmagomedov even went on to say that he would like his son’s last fight to be held in Moscow.
Khabib is known to have held his father’s opinions very high. Abdulmanap wasn’t just a biological father to him, he was also his longtime coach, trainer, and the man who molded him into one of the most dominant champions in the history of the UFC. Abdulmanap passed away last July after a battle with COVID-19 complications.
Ali Abdelaziz, Khabib’s manager, also said last July that despite Abdulmanap’s death, the plan to retire at 30-0 was still on. UFC President Dana White also said that month that he would consider Nurmagomedov’s wishes for his final fight, including a potential bout with former welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre. With Saturday’s fight his 29th, and the buzz for the GSP bout going on right now, things looked good according to plan. Or do they?
Perhaps it was not just a coincidence when Khabib said earlier this week that a Conor McGregor rematch “made sense” for as long as the Irishman’s upcoming bout with Dustin Poirier will be held at 155 pounds. Dana White has gone on record to say that that fight must happen at 155 pounds. If McGregor wins, then we could see huge rematches between the two heated rivals.
It wasn’t too long ago when Nurmagomedov kept on telling media that he has no plans to fight McGregor in a rematch, not after how he dominantly beat the Irishman at UFC 229. It seemed like yesterday when Khabib was certain that he has moved on from McGregor and doesn’t want to give the Irishman any more attention. That is a thing of the past now.
As stated previously, the talks of a super fight with Georges St. Pierre are heating up. But in his BT Sports interview, Khabib insisted that if the fight will happen, it should be at 155 pounds. That would put GSP in a tough spot. St. Pierre talked about fighting Khabib and hinted that he isn’t willing to move down in weight because of his age.
While Khabib continues to talk about the possibilities in his future, he reiterated that he is focused on the task at hand, and that is to beat Justin Gaethje on Saturday at UFC 254. Two days before fight night, the Eagle is a sizeable -338 odds on favorite at 22Bet with Gaethje coming back at +310. Despite the disparity in odds, Gaethje is someone that cannot be underestimated.
At UFC 249, he defeated Tony Ferguson on short notice. Not only did Gaethje win the interim UFC lightweight title by beating El Cucuy, but he also shattered the UFC’s dream of finally booking the Khabib vs Ferguson showdown that has been so elusive to the promotion.
A win over Gaethje will move Khabib to 29-0 and bring him one win closer to 30-0. If that happens, the clamor for the GSP bout will be even louder. If McGregor beats Poirier, fans will ask for a rematch. If Ferguson bounces back from his loss to Gaethje, talks for that long-anticipated fight will resume. And so on. You can’t blame Khabib for flip-flopping on his retirement.
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