Will Khabib return to the UFC for that 30-0-0 record?
Everything started and finished with a trademark triangle choke for Khabib Nurmagomedov. From his very first professional MMA victory against Vusal Bayramov in September 2008, to the main event UFC 254 triumph against Justin Gaethje in October 2020, although that last foray into the octagon seems to have come with an important caveat, because this was apparently the end of the road for this remarkable Russian mixed martial artist.
Unbeaten in 29 fights, all the best rivals beaten along the way, that last bout was marked by emotion and a symbolic gesture. After the fight was over and with the lightweight title successfully defended once again, Khabib dropped to his knees on the canvas, announced his decision to retire, then laid his gloves in the middle of the mat with deference.
“Today I want to say it was my last fight. No way I’m gonna come here without my father,” explained Khabib with tears in his eyes. Earlier in 2020 the 32-year-old had tragically lost his father to illness and for the first time in his career, fought without his cherished parent beside the octagon. There’s was a special relationship beyond that of simply father and son.
Definitive end for Khabib?
Dana told The Zach Gelb Show on CBS Sports Radio that he and @TeamKhabib have been talking & he expects Khabib to return & go for 30-0.
— Zach Gelb (@ZachGelb) October 29, 2020
During his post-fight interviews, Khabib gave a more profound explanation of his decision to retire. He mentioned spending days talking to his mother ahead of the bout, that she was reluctant about the idea of him fighting without his father, along with his promise to her that the fight against Gaethje would be his last.
Although the emotion surrounding his decision would indicate that Khabib is finished for good, there are those who believe he will be back in the octagon at some point. Early in November, UFC supremo Dana White hinted that Nurmagomedov might yet have a change of heart, even going on to suggest that his father’s legacy might also provide the inspiration.
“I have a feeling that he might go for 30-0,” White hinted, while speaking to the popular Zach Gelb Show on CBS Sports Radio. “His dad wanted him to get to 30-0, and I think he wants to honour his dad’s wish,” reassured the UFC president, conscious that many fans around the world will be keen to see Khabib fight just one more time.
Who would Khabib fight?
Should he decide to fight again, obviously, there will be plenty of speculation about who will stand against him in the octagon, undoubtedly at what would be the headline bout for an upcoming UFC event in 2021. Insofar as many fans of mixed martial arts are concerned, there’s only one opponent they want to see and that’s Connor McGregor.
Such a fight would be massive for UFC pay-per-view audience numbers, with eager fans tuning in from every corner of the globe to watch two of the most popular fighters of the last decade, duelling for potentially one last time. These two iconic figures appearing in the octagon again would undoubtedly be a massive event.
Khabib versus McGregor, “The Eagle” against “The Notorious” for a fight of the ages, old rivalries rekindled and with one last chance to make a statement on the canvas. Khabib won last time in October 2018 with a neck crank submission, although McGregor would undoubtedly be out for revenge, meaning it’s also a fight that could genuinely go either way and hard to predict who the odds would favour.
McGregor on the comeback trail
After he took just 40 seconds to demolish Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone at UFC 246 in January 2020, it really did look as though McGregor was firmly on the comeback trail, since losing his UFC Lightweight Championship belt to Khabib in October 2018. Odds for him to regain that title have been a regular 888 sports betting feature, awaiting dates for the next fight.
However, despite seeming in great shape once again, McGregor was involved in a very public spat via social networks with UFC boss White, then hinted that he was quitting mixed martial arts for good, even suggesting he was looking towards a lucrative boxing bout against Manny Pacquaio instead. Those fears have since been quelled.
McGregor appears committed and a Dustin Poirier rematch has tentatively been planned to headline UFC 257, which is scheduled to take place in January 2021. McGregor is already strongly tipped for victory should that event go ahead, even though 31-year-old Poirier is arguably in the best fighting form of his life, earning an enthralling decision win against Dan Hooker in June 2020.
2021 could be a great year for UFC
Given that McGregor versus Poirier would be a great early 2021 headline fight for UFC, albeit with some paperwork still to be finalised, it really would be a masterstroke by Dana White if he convinces Khabib to return for that 30-0 record and one last fight. Certainly, it will spark plenty of debate about who is the most deserving of opponents.
Whichever fighter takes the victory between McGregor and Poirier, they will stake the best claim to meet Khabib in the octagon one more time. Of course, prior to the 29-0 milestone win against Gaethje, they were both the most recent opponents for Nurmagomedov and neither could stand in his way.
The permutations for possible fights and especially for that UFC Lightweight Championship title, fans will certainly be drooling with anticipation, given the prospect of such exciting action in the octagon. Such magnificent encounters would surely smash all UFC pay-per-view records, taking mixed martial arts to a whole new level of popularity. Bring it on!
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