Khabib Nurmagomedov says he would be open to fighting again in Abu Dhabi after successfully defending his lightweight title at UFC 242 on Saturday night – a bout in which he said he felt “so much pressure” to deliver.
The Dagestan native, 30, defeated interim champion Dustin Poirier by a third-round submission in the headline, unification bout at a packed The Arena on Yas Island. With his second title defence, he extended his unblemished mixed martial arts record to 28-0 while at the same time moving to 12-0 in the UFC – the joint-third longest winning streak in its history.
Nurmagomedov controlled much of the contest, although he seemed stung by a right hand from Poirier in the second round, before surviving what appeared a tight guillotine choke from his American opponent in the third.
However, the lightweight champion soon came through, forcing Poirier to tap out of a rear naked choke.
“Dustin Poirier is not just champion of a state, or champion of a country, he’s one of the best in the world,” Nurmagomedov said. “Of course, I expected it’s going to be a tough match, he’s going to be a tough opponent. It was a great match, I think.
“He punched me a couple of times, but I controlled everything. Only thing that was very close was the guillotine, the first time. It was very good.
“But I expected this from him, because I watched all his fights and I know all the time he goes to guillotine. First time was close, second time I give him because I feel he lost so much energy, so much power. This is part of the game, how I can play with my opponents. Not many people understand this.”
Nurmagomedov, who was returning from an 11-month competitive lay-off following his suspension after last October’s controversial clash with Conor McGregor, is expected to next face Tony Ferguson, the No 2-ranked lightweight.
Yet Nurmagomedov was more preoccupied by his pound-for-pound standings, as he currently sits second behind American Jon Jones.
“You know what is everything in this sport?” he said. “Even if you’re 28-0, 12-0 in UFC, you’re one of the biggest stars, you smash everybody, people are talking about ‘You have to fight with him, you have to fight with him’.
“Give me just respect: put me at No 1 pound-for-pound fighter next week, because I think I deserve this. Because I dominate, all opponents. I am undefeated. I deserve some respect.”
Nurmagomedov has represented the face of UFC 242, the promotion’s return to Abu Dhabi after five years and the first event in a five-year partnership with the emirate, announced in April. On Saturday, he was cheered on by the majority of the 13,000-plus spectators at The Arena, many of who were compatriots. Also, for the first time in his UFC career, Nurmagomedov had his father in his corner.
Asked if the pressure had weighed heavily, he said: "This is not about one week, this is about the last couple of years. I train so hard, without days off. Of course, last week was very hard with cutting weight, all this media stuff, with pressure.
“Before, when I came to the locker room I feel great, but beginning the walk inside the arena I feel pressure, because I watch, ‘OK, I know this guy, this guy’s from my village, this guy’s my uncle, this guy’s my friend, this guy’s from my city’. I know everybody inside the arena.
“For example, when I fight in the US I know almost nobody inside the arena. But here there’s a lot of people. My close people come to support me, so I feel a very big pressure, that it’s a big, big thing they come. My whole family came, my uncles, cousins. I feel so much pressure.”
On coming back to fight again in the capital, Nurmagomedov said: “I love this region. I’ve been in Turkey, Europe, Russia, even Dagestan, US, Brazil, Canada, Mexico. I’ve been everywhere. But this place - Emirates, Abu Dhabi, Dubai - is the safest place in the world. This is an amazing place.
“Of course, I want to fight here. I have very good energy here. I love these people; these people love me. And I hope they liked my performance and they enjoyed the whole event.
“I want to come back here, maybe next year. Why not? Because UFC have already made an exclusive contract with Abu Dhabi and next year they’re going to make another show here too. We’ll see.
“Maybe in Russia, in Moscow in a 80,000 stadium. I can fight in Moscow, I can fight here in Abu Dhabi, everywhere. Maybe in Africa, why not? I really want to fight in Africa too.”