UFC 257: Dana White promises to push hard for Khabib Nurmagomedov return - with Conor McGregor his top pick

'I'm obviously meeting with him because I think that he should fight again' says UFC president

LAS VEGAS, CA - OCTOBER 06:  Khabib Nurmagomedov, left, and Conor McGregor exchange punches during their fight at UFC 229 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. Friday, Oct. 6, 2018. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht/Digital First Media/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images)

Dana White says he will press Khabib Nurmagomedov “as hard as I can” to fight one more time in the UFC when they meet in Abu Dhabi, with a rematch against Conor McGregor his ideal match-up.

Lightweight champion Nurmagomedov, 32, announced his shock retirement at UFC 254 in the capital in October, moments after defeating Justin Gaethje by second-round submission to defend his crown and lift his unbeaten professional record to 29-0.

The Dagestan native has often stated since that he would not return to the octagon, although he does plan to sit down with White during the upcoming Fight Island series, which begins this week.

Speaking to ESPN on Monday, White said: "I'm obviously meeting with him because I think that he should fight again. Look at what he did to Justin Gaethje; look at what he's done to every opponent he has faced.

“Like when I wanted [former two-division champion] Daniel Cormier to stay, I still think they’re the best in the world. And then there’s always the argument, ‘Well, it’s never a bad thing to go out on top’.

“And when you talk about money, Khabib has money beyond belief. This guy doesn’t ever have to work again and he still has the ability to do things to make unbelievable money. He’s in a very unique position as a fighter.

“[But] I think he should fight again and I’m going to press him as hard as I can for one more.”

Nurmagomedov’s decision to retire was prompted by his father’s death in July. Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, who acted also as his son’s long-time coach, died aged 57 from heart complications made worse by contracting Covid-19. Khabib Nurmagomedov said later that he had promised his mother he would not fight beyond UFC 254. His father, though, had always wanted him to reach 30-0 before calling time on his future Hall-of-Fame career.

“As a promoter, you always want the best guys in the world,” White said when asked how he viewed Nurmagomedov’s decision both as a promoter and a fight fan. “But at the same time as a promoter, when a guy wants to retire he probably should if that’s even crossing your mind or thinking.

“The difference with a guy like Khabib is he’s been through so much and losing his dad was such a major blow to him. [Mixed martial arts is] something that they did together, yet his dad wanted him to hit 30-0.

“But as a fight fan, I want Khabib to fight 10 more.”

Khabib v Poirier in Abu Dhabi

White’s meet with Nurmagomedov will be their first face-to-face interaction since UFC 254, with the UFC president saying he expects to have a definitive answer on the champion’s future once they sit down together.

White is in Abu Dhabi for the UFC's third Fight Island series, which features three events in nine days from Saturday and culminates in the huge lightweight clash between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier at UFC 257 on January 24.

The UFC has been keen to rebook McGregor and Nurmagomedov following their record-breaking, money-spinning bout in October 2018. Nurmagomedov won via submission in the fourth round to retain his title.

“No matter what you think of Conor personally, Conor McGregor is not only one of the best in the world, [but] one of the best to ever do it,” White said. “Right now he’s as focused as he’s ever been.

“I don’t know if this is going to be the same Conor after the Poirier fight. Like you said, Conor goes like this [ups and downs]. But if this Conor sticks around for the next year, how do you not do Khabib versus Conor again?

“The division’s stacked with tough guys and the reality is that if Khabib does retire then whoever the highest-ranked guy is at the time will end up facing Conor - if Conor beats Poirier - and would fight for the title. I’m sure.”