Khabib Nurmagomedov says he’s ready to fight ‘chicken’ Conor McGregor and more
Now that he’s replaced Conor McGregor as UFC lightweight champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov wants it known his reign will be different.
“There’s only one king of the jungle. I’m going to change the game,” Nurmagomedov (26-0) said after defeating replacement opponent Al Iaquinta by a lopsided unanimous decision early Sunday morning to claim the belt the UFC stripped from McGregor because of inactivity.
“If you’re talking about the chicken [McGregor], anytime, inside or out [of the octagon],” Nurmagomedov said of fighting the former two-division champion.
McGregor currently has the more pressing matter of legal proceedings to consider after his rampage with a swarm of friends Thursday following a media session in New York. McGregor was angered that the Russian fighter had confronted his stablemate, Artem Lobov, earlier in the week. McGregor eventually threw a hand truck into the window of a bus carrying UFC fighters, some of whom were injured. Two of the fighters were unable to compete at UFC 223.
McGregor turned himself in to police in Brooklyn later that day. He pleaded not guilty on Friday to two felony counts of criminal mischief and 10 misdemeanors, posted $50,000 bail and is due back in court June 14.
“We had talked about [McGregor] fighting in September,” UFC president Dana White said following Nurmagomedov’s victory. “I don’t know anything about Conor now. There’s nothing to think about at this time. He has to go to court in June.”
The publicity caused by McGregor targeting the new Russian champion has heightened interest in a possible showdown between the two.
Nurmagomedov said he tried to exit the bus during the rampage, but was stopped by those inside.
“Just tell me where,” Nurmagomedov said on UFC Embedded after McGregor had fled the scene. “Send me a message and tell me the place [to fight]. Without security. Without UFC. And what time. That’s it.”
Rivalries like that between fighters as skilled as the popular, hard-striking McGregor and masterful wrestler Nurmagomedov is a promoter’s and accountant’s dream.
White said he spoke to McGregor on Friday. “I think it’s good. There’s a mutual respect between us,” he said.
“In a perfect world, it’d be great if Conor didn’t do that. I didn’t see that coming. People say to me this looks bad for the sport and I agree it doesn’t look good, but there’s a lot worse that goes on in all the other sports so I’ll take a dolly through a window any day.”
Nurmagomedov was originally scheduled to fight Tony Ferguson for the lightweight title. Ferguson injured a knee in late March and was replaced by featherweight champion Max Holloway, who was declared medically unfit to fight during his weight cut Friday morning. Iaquinta agreed to the fight later that day.
“If you’re going to be champion, you can beat anybody,” Nurmagomedov said. “All week, I stay calm, focused on me. I am ready. No nervous. No think about other stuff. I don’t have a chance to make a mistake with the belt on the line. Everything was about mental.”
Given McGregor’s layoff since November 2016, when he became the first fighter in UFC history to simultaneously wear two division belts, and Ferguson’s injury, White said he considers Nurmagomedov worthy of being called the UFC’s best lightweight.
“His performance was amazing,” White said of Nurmagomedov’s victory Saturday. “The stuff this guy went through physically, emotionally, mentally … I’ve had guys who were champions not take a [replacement fighter] coming off a short camp. All that guy’s been through … it’s draining. I’m drained and I didn’t do [anything]. I couldn’t imagine going through this week and going to fight.”
Nurmagomedov said he’d next like a “legacy” fight against former two-division champion and UFC legend Georges St-Pierre in a lightweight bout at Madison Square Garden in November, but White said he hasn’t discussed such plans with St-Pierre.
Nurmagomedov believes that Ferguson needs to take another fight before a title shot. Nurmagomedov was forced to do the same in December after falling ill in his weight cut for a bout against Ferguson in March 2017.
That would leave McGregor as a likely opponent if the former champion can tap dance through his legal situation to fight this year.
“We have to finish this beef,” Nurmagomedov said. “You want to fight, come. I told you guys, I’m going to make him humble. No more fake champions, no one who doesn’t want to defend his title. This champion wants to defend his title. Let me know anytime.”
White revealed that former heavyweight champion and Sunday Wrestlemania performer Brock Lesnar, who submitted a positive drug sample in 2016, remains under contract and could return to fight the Stipe Miocic-Daniel Cormier winner for the heavyweight tile later this year.
Get our high school sports newsletter
Prep Rally is devoted to the SoCal high school sports experience, bringing you scores, stories and a behind-the-scenes look at what makes prep sports so popular.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.