Undefeated contender Khabib Nurmagomedov has a novel idea as to which of the UFC’s lightweight champions he should challenge.
“I’ll fight them both on the same night,” he said.
The response elicited a laugh from the media at the UFC 219 post-fight news conference, which drew an immediate assurance from Nurmagomedov that he wasn’t kidding.
It would be difficult to dispute any assertion by Nurmagomedov after the soul-stealing beatdown he administered to Edson Barboza en route to a one-sided unanimous decision Saturday night that cemented his place atop the rankings.
Nurmagomedov is now 25-0 in his career and 9-0 since joining the UFC. The 29-year-old Dagestan native has demolished everyone that has dared enter the cage with him. His coaches at American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California, insist he has never so much as lost one round of sparring at any of the elite gyms worldwide.
All that is left is the opportunity to fight for a belt that many close followers of mixed martial arts believed is a foregone conclusion he would one day hold.
Nurmagomedov’s next bout will almost assuredly be against either lightweight champion Conor McGregor or interim champ Tony Ferguson.
It won’t be both, but Nurmagomedov isn’t sure either wants to fight him.
“These (expletive) guys talk so much when (I’m injured),” said Nurmagomedov, whose only real struggles as a fighter have been with injuries and weight cuts. “But now I’m healthy and where are these guys? I don’t hear from them.”
Nurmagomedov does believe his next fight will be against Ferguson for the interim title, but feels his unblemished record is more meaningful than the accessory his potential opponent will wear around his waist to the cage.
“Real belt is 25-0,” Nurmagomedov said. “This is real belt. They’re all fake belts. To be honest, Tony Ferguson has the real belt. Conor is a good fighter, but he is not the real champ. I think a lot of people can beat him at 155 pounds. He has good boxing, good timing, but doesn’t have wrestling, grappling, conditioning. The UFC wanted this, that he came to lightweight and fought one time and is champion. This is a little bit crazy I think.”
According to multiple oddsmakers, Nurmagomedov would be favored over either Ferguson or McGregor. One offshore book is accepting wagers on Nurmagomedov minus-260 over McGregor in a hypothetical matchup.
Nurmagomedov’s dominant performances have earned the respect of former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, who attended Saturday’s event and briefly spoke to Nurmagomedov after the win. Nurmagomedov said he was invited to Tyson’s home in Las Vegas before his last fight.
He said the interactions are a dream come true.
“I remember watching Mike Tyson fight against Clifford Ettiene at like 5 or 6 in the morning in Moscow,” Nurmagomedov recalled. “He knocked him out first round. I can’t imagine 14 years later I’m going to fight in Vegas and have the best performance of the night on the New Year’s Eve card and Tyson is going to watch my fight. If you want your dreams come true, you have to follow them. Even you have injuries, surgeries, whatever, you have to keep going, keep focused, and take your dream.”
He hopes the belt is next.
Fight of the Night Bonus: Cris “Cyborg” Justino vs. Holly Holm
Performances of the Night Bonuses: Tim Elliott, Khabib Nurmagomedov