Khabib Nurmagomedov submitted the most shocking of the UFC’s recent early retirements on Saturday, saying he will hang up his gloves after defending his lightweight title against Justin Gaethje at UFC 254.
The decision from the 32-year-old shocked just about everyone, including UFC president Dana White.
However, White is no longer so sure that Nurmagomedov really has participated in his last fight, at least according to comments he made Thursday on “The Zach Gelb Show” on CBS Sports Radio. White said he has been in recent talks with Nurmagomedov and believes the fighter could have an eye on one more fight to improve his undefeated record to 30-0.
"Khabib and I have been talking. He was completely emotional that night when he got through that fight. I have a feeling that he might go for 30-0.”
“I do. I think that he’s not going to retire. His dad wanted to him to get to 30-0. I think he wants to honor his dad’s wish.”
Nurmagomedov’s father Abdulmanap, who trained Nurmagomedov, died of COVID-19 complications in July. White’s mention of his wishes is interesting given that the champion specifically cited the wishes of his mother when announcing his retirement.
“No way am I going to come here without my father. It was first time after what happened with my father when UFC called me about Justin. I talked with my mother for three days. She didn’t want me to go fight without my father. I promised her, ‘It’s going to be my last fight,’ and if I give my word, I have to follow this. It was my last fight here.
Apparently, those plans might be on the verge of changing, and White might already have an idea for Nurmagomedov’s next opponent.
What is Dana White’s ‘something special’ for Khabib?
When prodded by Gelb about talks of having “something special” planned for Nurmagomedov in the run-up to UFC 254, White was coy about what he had planned next for UFC’s top pound-for-pound fighter:
“I haven’t even told him that because he was going to retire. I haven’t even said it to him. I’m not going to say anything publicly.”
Notably, White didn’t deny that something special was in the works. And it’s not hard to guess who that something might be.
It’s almost certainly Georges St-Pierre.
Nurmagomedov has repeatedly stated his desire to face the former UFC welterweight and middleweight champion, to the point that he said it was the only post-UFC 254 fight he was interested in. That still may be true.
St-Pierre hasn’t fought since he defeated Michael Bisping for the middleweight crown in 2017 then vacated the title. However, he hasn’t ruled out a return to the Octagon, and seems plenty interested in facing Nurmagomedov, via ESPN:
"If I come back, it would be for one fight," St-Pierre said earlier this month, via ESPN. “And I need to take, for me, the biggest fish. And the one — for me, I believe — the top guy right now, the name is Khabib.
"As a fighter, the most exciting thing is to take the guy who seems invincible, unbeatable. He has the aura of invincibility. But it's also the scariest thing to do."
If St-Pierre doesn’t work out and Nurmagomedov still wants to go to 30-0 or beyond, there are still plenty of possible fights for the Russian.
The obvious choice would be Tony Ferguson, who has been slated to face Nurmagomedov an incredible five different times before various circumstances got in the way. The two were scheduled to fight in April before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the sport, and Ferguson lost his shot against Gaethje in an interim lightweight title match.
There’s also Conor McGregor, for no reason other than and any talk of a Nurmagomedov-McGregor rematch would probably cause massive cartoon dollar signs to shoot out of White’s eyes.
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