As Khabib Nurmagomedov’s upcoming clash with Tony Ferguson draws near, the reigning lightweight champion is focused on an opponent that he claims is his most difficult to date.
“I think, just my opinion, my last couple of years, I compete with guys like [Edson] Barboza, ]Rafael] dos Anjos, Conor [McGregor], [Dustin] Poirier, [Al] Iaquinta, all of these guys not tough like Tony Ferguson,” Nurmagomedov told TMZ Sports. “That’s why now I feel I have real motivation because before when I watched all these opponents I think like, ‘Okay, I can beat this guy.’ Of course, I work hard, but right now it’s a very, very tough opponent.
“That’s why we focus like always, but right now we have more focus, more hard work. Tony is not like these guys. He’s a little bit tougher than all of them.”
Nurmagomedov will square off with Ferguson in the UFC 249 headliner at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on April 18. Ferguson has been among the top 155-pound contenders in the UFC for years, and he will enter his highly-anticipated matchup with “The Eagle” on a 12-bout winning streak. Despite Ferguson’s undeniably impressive resume, Nurmagomedov still must constantly address the possibility of a rematch with McGregor.
The Irish star returned to the Octagon at UFC 246 in January, when he dispatched Donald Cerrone via technical knockout in just 40 seconds. While it’s clear the promotion has significant interested in booking the two rivals again, the Dagestani fighter believes a victory over “Cowboy” alone is not enough to solidify McGregor’s spot as the next No. 1 contender.
“Cowboy always lose all his main event fights. Always,” Nurmagomedov said. “I don’t remember when he win. The last 10 fights, I think he lose six or seven fights. He’s not high-level lightweight or welterweight right now. He’s not. Of course he has a big name, but his time is finished.
“Conor picked a very good opponent. Now, he come back and beat Cowboy, who lose [seven of his last 11 fights] and then they talk about, ‘Okay, this guy’s come back.’ No, he has to fight with really tough opponents like Justin Gaethje or something like this. He has to come back to lightweight division, he has to cut weight. This is just my opinion.”
Nurmagomedov defeated McGregor by fourth-round submission at UFC 229 in October 2018. The event was reportedly the organization’s highest-selling pay-per-view of all time, and the post-fight melee that ensued after Nurmagomedov’s victory only served to build even more interest in a rematch between the two men. Nurmagomedov certainly understands this interest, but at the moment he is more concerned with legacy-building fights like the one that awaits him at UFC 249.
“I think people want to see us continue what happened last time,” Nurmagomedov said. “They just want to see drama. If you ask people, ‘Guys, what do you think, who’s gonna win?’ 99 percent going to say ‘Khabib, like he did first time.’ Just people want to see a big drama show, only for this one.
“If we talk about money, this is good. If we talk about drama, this is good. If we talk about real lightweight contender or real lightweight championship fight, this is not good. This is not real championship fight. But if we talk about drama and money, of course this is good. But I come here for show, to make my legacy. For my legacy, I have to beat tough opponents like Dustin Poirier, like Iaquinta, like other guys. Right now it’s Tony Ferguson. I have to beat all of them, like real contenders, not fake contenders.”