Khabib Dismisses McGregor, Wants Ferguson for Interim Belt

Conor McGregor’s arrival at the top of the UFC lightweight class has predictably shaken up the division. Top contender Khabib Nurmagomedov has been relentlessly challenging the new champion, but he has wisely realized that he may need to start looking at other options.

Nurmagomedov (24-0) defeated Michael Johnson at UFC 205, the same night that McGregor destroyed Eddie Alvarez to capture the lightweight belt. Post-fight, Khabib called McGregor out both in the cage and backstage, and continued the attack online over the next several days.

McGregor, however, calls the shots. And the superstar’s next shot likely will not come for quite some time: McGregor announced that he was taking time off following UFC 205, as his longtime-girlfriend is pregnant with their first child.

Wanting to stay active — Nurmagomedov’s long layoff was the subject of McGregor’s criticism post-fight — Khabib is instead setting his sights on #2 contender Tony Ferguson.

Nurmagomedov and Ferguson had been scheduled to fight multiple times over the past year. They were booked for The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale last December, but Nurmagomedov withdrew with a rib injury. Then, the top lightweights were set to fight at UFC on FOX 19. Ferguson was forced to withdraw from the fight and Nurmagomedov instead manhandled promotional newcomer Darrell Horcher.

"I feel very bad about this because before this year I have two years rest because I have injured all the time," Nurmagomedov told RT Sport. "Now I don’t want [to be] waiting for this guy. If Conor don’t want fight before May/June, I want to take other fight. I want to fight for the interim belt with Tony Ferguson.

"Last time he was injured. He pulled out, not me. He’s not coming to April 16 to the fight. Before I have been injured and now it’s, why not? Now, I think the UFC wants to make this fight. I feel this and for me its perfect date is March. Not early, only March."

While some would scoff at Nurmagomedov’s request that a fight with Ferguson be for the interim title, such a fight would fit in with the UFC’s recent strategies regarding McGregor’s presence in two divisions. Most notably, the upcoming fight between Anthony Pettis and Max Holloway was repurposed at the UFC 206 headliner and an interim title was introduced — meaning current interim champion Jose Aldo was promoted to undisputed champ (again) and McGregor was stripped of his featherweight belt. It’s a convoluted mess that McGregor tends to leave in his wake.

McGregor proved the extent of his skills at UFC 205, when he made lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez look like he did not belong in the same cage as the Irish southpaw. But according to Khabib, McGregor is not the most challenging opponent in the division, Ferguson is.

Ferguson is on a nine-fight winning streak, his recent win over former champ Rafael Dos Anjos his most impressive performance to date. With McGregor seemingly unexcited by a matchup with either fighter, Nurmagomedov and Ferguson may indeed fight each other before either gets the title shot they each deserve.

"Tony Ferguson is tough guy, tough opponent. Nine-win streak. Why not? I think this is real high level lightweight fight. Not Conor versus me I think this is real high level fight."

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