Dana White shared the video of the start of their meeting on social media. The UFC public relations staff issued an alert noting that the UFC president would announce the result of his meeting with lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov on Saturday on ABC during the main card headlined by featherweights Max Holloway and Calvin Kattar.
And broadcasters Jon Anik, Daniel Cormier and Dan Hardy breathlessly teased it prior to the preliminary’s opening on ESPN+.
It turned out to be, well, nothing.
White was hoping that Nurmagomedov would change his mind and announce he was un-retiring. Nurmagomedov shocked virtually everyone who follows mixed martial arts in October when he announced his retirement at 29-0 following his submission of Justin Gaethje at UFC 254.
Nurmagomedov’s father, Abdulmanap, had died of COVID-19 a few months earlier. The two were extraordinarily close. His mother asked him to no longer fight.
He suffered through a difficult training camp for the Gaethje fight, best by several injuries and illnesses.
And so when he announced his retirement in the cage after dominating Gaethje and submitting him in the second round, White did something he normally doesn’t do: He set about trying to get Nurmagomedov to change his mind.
White’s stance, almost since the day he took over as UFC president in January 2001, was that if just the thought of retirement was in a fighter’s mind, he ought to retire. And no matter the stature of the star — Chuck Liddell most prominent among them — White never changed his stance.
Until October when Nurmagomedov shocked him and the rest of the MMA world with his announcement that he was done.
White made his announcement and as announcements go, it was a complete dud. It said nothing.
Nurmagomedov, White said, felt he’d accomplished everything he wanted in his career. But he added that if any of the four lightweights who are competing on UFC 257 at Etihad Arena next Saturday in Abu Dhabi did something sensational, he’d consider returning to fight one of them.
Conor McGregor meets Dustin Poirier in the main event. Michael Chandler faces Dan Hooker in the co-main. And White said that Nurmagomedov included Charles Oliveira in that group.
“He said, ‘If these guys do something spectacular, show me something spectacular, and make me want to come back and fight,’” White said. “I have the feeling if somebody delivers, and it could be on the main event or the co-main event ... ”
That is hardly the promise of a return. Nurmagomedov isn’t the type who speaks in half-measures. He says what he means and he means what he says.
A rematch with McGregor would be the most lucrative MMA fight in history. Their first fight sold a UFC record 2.45 million pay-per-views, and with the promotion this one would get, it would have a better-than-average chance of exceeding that, perhaps significantly.
If you know Nurmagomedov, you know he’s not motivated by money. He lives humbly, and he’s not going to return just because he might earn the biggest paycheck White has ever written for a UFC fight.
If he comes back, it will be because he believes there is something he didn’t get done that he needs to do.
He’s not going to be lured back by McGregor’s taunts. Nurmagomedov dislikes McGregor intensely and doesn’t want to give McGregor the spotlight again. He submitted McGregor in the fourth round of a 2018 bout at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas that he largely dominated.
McGregor took a shot at Nurmagomedov in an interview with Oscar Willis of The Mac Life recently.
“I would have liked to see it, this fight, but there were circumstances surround the man scurrying away to an extent, and they’ve given him a bit of time,” McGregor said.
The last thing Nurmagomedov did was scurry away. In the last four years, while McGregor’s only bouts were the loss to Nurmagomedov and a KO of Donald Cerrone, Nurmagomedov has defeated Edson Barboza, Al Iaquinta, McGregor, Poirier and Gaethje, winning the last three by submission.
That’s hardly scurrying away.
He’s already submitted McGregor and Poirier, and Hooker has been beaten by Poirier. So the only way it would seem he comes back would be if Chandler, the former Bellator champion, does something, well, spectacular against Hooker, or if he decides he needs to take on the challenge of Oliveira.
But Nurmagomedov hasn’t been all that impressed by Chandler in the past, and it’s hard to imagine Chandler’s going to be able to change his mind against Hooker.
I still think we’ve seen the last of Nurmagomedov in the cage, but if he’s back, I suspect it’s going to be to get to 30-0 against Oliveira.
He’s not going to swallow his pride and say McGregor looked great no matter how easily McGregor handles Poirier. None of the other fights make all that much sense.
So it seems it’s either Oliveira or bust, and to be honest, I’d bet on bust.
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