Khabib Nurmagomedov expects UFC's lightweight division to be 'on fire' this year – even without him

Unbeaten champion announced retirement in October and despite Dana White's attempts to coax him back, he remains out of contention

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Khabib Nurmagomedov appears committed to his decision to retire, with the UFC lightweight champion saying the division will be “on fire” later this year - even without him.

The undefeated Dagestani, 32, called time on his celebrated career in October immediately following his successful title defence against interim-champion Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi.

Nurmagomedov, who with the win took his professional record to 29-0, cited the death of his father in July and a subsequent promise he made to his mother as reason not to continue.

However, UFC president Dana White has attempted to coax Nurmagomedov back for one more bout, with the pair meeting during last month's Fight Island in the UAE capital. As of yet, though, Nurmagomedov seems to be intent on staying retired, and says he has no issue vacating his lightweight crown.

In a recent interview with Russia’s Match TV, as translated by RT Sport, Nurmagomedov said: “I’m focused on my own big projects, four or five of them. I have to spend time on them.

“As for my career as a fighter, I don’t want to go into details. Dana’s an honest person; we always had an honest relationship. I think he’ll let the media know the message that I sent him a week ago. It’s not a secret, I just told him how I’d like things to develop, not only related to me, but the lightweight division in general.

“I told [Dana] I don’t want the division to be held up. But on the other hand, fighters have only just been in action and people already understand in general who we’ll see fighting for the title.”

Two major bouts in the division took place at UFC 257 in Abu Dhabi, with Dustin Poirier defeating Conor McGregor by second-round TKO at Etihad Arena and debutant Michael Chandler seeing off Dan Hooker in the first round.

The UFC looks keen to book a trilogy fight between Poirier and McGregor – the Irishman triumphed in their 2014 clash – although as of yet nothing has been confirmed.

“I know they’re already making plans, I think for around May or June for a title fight,” Nurmagomedov said. “But between who? Dana told me he isn’t done yet. I can say that.

"When I told him the lightweight division needs to move on, he told me he isn’t done. He said to me, ‘When you fly to Vegas at the end of February, we’ll sit down and talk’. Dana needs to make some kind of decision. But whatever the decision, I’ll agree with it.”

That said, Nurmagomedov believes the UFC should anoint Poirier his successor. The American, who has put together a two-fight win streak against impressive opponents since losing to the Russian in 2019, now sits as the division’s No 1-ranked challenger.

“Poirier deserves to be champion, that’s my personal opinion,” Nurmagomedov said. “Look at who he’s fought: Jim Miller, Eddie Alvarez, Anthony Pettis, Max Holloway. He’s fought me, Conor. These are all top fighters, maybe fighters who will end up in the UFC Hall of Fame.

“I think intrigue will appear in the lightweight division as soon as they decide the title fight and eliminator. At the moment, it’s held up and not clear what Dana’s thinking.

“I think it’s going to be on fire in the lightweight division this summer. The lightweight division has always been the most competitive, the most interesting, with big stars. It will take new turns this summer… a new, younger, generation is already coming, plus there’s Chandler, [Charles] Oliveira, Poirier, Gaethje, a lot of good fighters.

"With that mix, it will be interesting this summer and towards the end of the year.”