Neither snow nor ice, nor the gloom of a work day could keep the fans of Khabib Nurmagomedov from packing the ballroom at the National restaurant in Brighton Beach on Friday afternoon for a Q&A session, cementing the status of the No. 1-ranked lightweight contender as a rapidly rising star on the UFC landscape.
“I think I have a lot of fans,” Nurmagomedov said with a grin to UFC.com’s Matt Parrino, drawing a roar from a crowd that included several wearing the Papakha hat that has become the Dagestan native’s trademark.
Watch the full @khabib_nurmagomedov Q&A on Facebook.com/UFCUnitedKingdom
A photo posted by UFC Europe (@ufceurope) on Feb 10, 2017 at 11:48am PST
With his UFC 209 showdown for the interim UFC lightweight championship against Tony Ferguson on March 4 rapidly approaching, Nurmagomedov is already in all-business mode, and more than a couple times, he had a correction to make when it comes to the meeting of top contenders.
“I don’t think this is a fight for the interim belt,” he said. “Who wins this fight, I think he becomes the real champion.”
That statement is both a testament to the quality of the matchup between the 24-0 Nurmagomedov, who has won eight of those bouts in the Octagon, and former Ultimate Fighter winner Ferguson, who is riding a nine-fight winning streak. But it was also a jab at the current lightweight champion, Conor McGregor, who isn’t expected back in the Octagon until later in 2017 as he awaits the birth of his first son.
“I don’t think this guy wants to defend his belt,” Nurmagomedov said of McGregor, who won the 155-pound title in November, defeating Eddie Alvarez. On the same UFC 205 card, Nurmagomedov scored his most impressive win to date, submitting Michael Johnson in the third round. But with McGregor taking a break from active duty, the 28-year-old was left without the fight he wanted. It’s one he’s not sure he’ll ever get, but it was clear that as long as he gets his title, that’s all that really matters.
“I don’t give a s**t about Conor,” he said. “When I came to the UFC, I never think about Conor. ‘Oh I want to fight with him and make money,’ or something like this. I only think about the belt. I beat Tony Ferguson, after, if Conor says he don’t want to defend his title, and I’ll fight with another top contender, maybe Michael Chiesa, maybe (Edson) Barboza or somebody like this.”
But if it sounds like Nurmagomedov is thinking too far ahead, he’s not. The focus in on the Ferguson fight, but not necessarily Ferguson.
“I don’t feel nothing about him,” he said of “El Cucuy.” “He is just another opponent. When the cage closes, he wants to smash my face. How can I respect him? He wants to fight with me, he wants to choke me, he wants to break me, so before the fight, I cannot respect him. When the fight is finished, it’s okay.”
So is that a prediction from Nurmagomedov that Ferguson won’t see five rounds?
“My plan is to make him tired, have a little talk with him about who is who, and finish him.”