It’s been a long two years for Khabib Nurmagomedov after consecutive injuries that required three surgeries, but this weekend he takes on UFC newcomer Darrell Horcher at UFC Fight Night: Teixeira vs Evans, and as far as he’s concerned, his entire career hangs in the balance.
“This is a risky fight for me,” he said. “This guy is a no name and it’s his first fight in the UFC, and I asked the UFC for this fight. I said ‘please give me somebody.’ I am number two ranked in the world. He has nothing to lose and he wants to show to his fans that he can beat a top guy in the UFC. And he will become top ten if he beats me. If I lose, I will lose everything. I will lose my 22-fight win streak. I will lose my ranking. I will lose my undefeated career. That’s why it’s a very big risk. If I lose to a guy with no name it will be very hard for me.”
Horcher is a lightweight champion in the CFFC promotion in New Jersey, but “The Eagle” has proved to be one of the best fighters in the world, with wins over current champion Rafael dos Anjos, Kamal Shalorus and Abel Trujillo.
Despite potential ring rust and the self-doubt that comes with such a long layoff, Nurmagomedov understands that once he’s in the ring, everything will come together, and he knows what to look for inside the Octagon.
“In my last fight with RDA, I took him down and I heard him breathe heavy and I don’t know why, but in that moment, I knew that he was ready to break. Sometimes guys keep going. For instance, when I fought Trujillo, I saw in his eyes in the third round that he was ready for anything. Sometimes you feel this and sometimes you don’t, but it’s very hard to interpret. I want to feel him in the ring. I want to punch him and I want to grab him and throw him around the ring. I have to fight.”
Such sentiment might be too much pressure for most, but for Khabib, it’s a calling. For the Dagestan native, fighting or not fighting might as well be life or death. He was originally scheduled to fight the surging Tony Ferguson, but that opponent was forced out with an injury. For Nurmagomedov, it doesn’t matter who is standing across the ring from him, as long as it’s someone. And while Ferguson wanted the fight rescheduled as soon as he recovered, “The Eagle” opted for sooner rather than later.
“I have to beat somebody up,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s Tony Ferguson or Darrell Horcher, I have to beat somebody and prove to everyone that I deserve a title shot. I am upset that I was injured. I got injured and the UFC gave Ferguson another opponent but now he pulls out because of an injury and he wants me to wait for him for two months? Tony needs to shut up and just heal. When I pulled out of my fight with Cowboy Cerrone and they gave him John Makdessi, I didn’t say anything. I shut up and I watched the fight. Ferguson needs to shut up and watch my performance. I trained for four months for this fight. I am not going to wait two more months to fight. He needs to respect that decision. I’m not waiting until July to fight him. I need to fight right now. It’s been too long for me out of competition.”
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Nurmagomedov believes his injuries are his own fault. He is vocal about not making excuses for them and is putting everything on the line to get back into the Octagon - if not for himself, then for the people who have supported him his entire career. An emotional Nurmagomedov explains.
“My fans are waiting for me,” he said. “I feel like my fans are upset with me after injury after injury after injury. I owe my fans and that’s why I asked the UFC to give me somebody. I have to see blood. I have to feel how I cut weight. I have to just fight again. This is very important for me. I have to feel everything again. Do you understand what I’m saying? I have to feel my opponent. I have to feel the canvas underneath me. I have to see blood. I have to get hit. I have to hit. I think that I still deserve a title shot right away but I also know that I haven’t fought in two years and I need to get back and show the fans and the UFC that I’m still the best fighter in the world.”
Nurmagomedov is proud of his heritage and believes that Dagestan is the future of mixed martial arts.
“We have the best freestyle wrestling school in Russia,” he said. “We have seven Olympic gold medals. In all of Dagestan, MMA may be new, but we have at least 10 fighters in the UFC. In another three years we will have at least 20 fighters there. We are a strong people. We don’t back down from fights. We love to compete and that’s all there is to it.”
On Saturday night, Khabib Nurmagomedov will fight again. And that’s all there is to it.