Ever since he stunned the mixed martial arts world and announced his retirement, following his final title defense at UFC 254 in October, lightweight superstar Khabib Nurmagomedov has constantly heard and read the calls hoping for his return. From fans and his former Ultimate Fighting Championship boss Dana White. And he understands it because he knows he brings the marquee star power the sports lacks.
In a recent interview with ESPN, the undefeated and retired former champion was asked if he expects Dana White to ever stop asking about a possible return to the Octagon. Although he is firm about his decision to leave the sport behind, he doesn’t see an end but understands why White won’t stop asking. And it’s because of a lacking big-time stars in the sport.
Khabib Nurmagomedov sees the star power void in MMA
“I don’t think [so],” Nurmagomedov said when asked if White will stop hoping for his return. “First of all, this is because of age, because I’m only 32. And for this sport, it’s not an [old] age. I’m not old for this sport. If we can do this for the next couple years, I can be on top. That’s why I think he’s always gonna be [thinking], ‘Maybe Khabib is gonna change his mind.’ Because if you watch right now, we don’t have big stars in MMA. And I understand Dana. He feels a little bit bad. How many years they supported me, build me, promote me, they gave me big fights. Because they gave me big fights, I became a star.”
In the conversation, “The Eagle” recalled in being booked to face then-champion Eddie Alvarez in 2016. However, the UFC changed course and instead put Conor McGregor–the featherweight champion at the time–in the bout instead because of the mainstream draw he had become. It’s something Nurmagomedov understood then, and even more so now. It’s why he asked to be on that same card and get the spotlight rub in his destructive win over Michael Johnson.
In between rounds of that UFC 205 fight, Nurmagomedov was caught on camera yelling to White at ringside, about him delivering on his promise to “smash” Johnson, and then saying he’d “smash your boy.”
The Russian feels many top UFC talent today, including champions complain about social influencers having success in combat sports, or about what they deserve, and do not put in the effort to grow their value as athletes. Like he did on his way up to international stardom.
“I watch now, a lot of champions, they cry. ‘Give me this, give me [that],’ but some [influeners] make a lot of money. Okay, what [do] they bring on the table? So many views, so much on the table. Okay, your champion, but don’t bring nothing. Only [the] belt, but people need something.”
What do you think? Is the best UFC lightweight of all time right?