They call it prizefighting for a reason, but for UFC lightweight contender Khabib Nurmagomedov, the prize is not money. For him, the only prize that matters is the championship belt, and if he wins his next fight, “The Eagle” said he should absolutely get a chance to win UFC gold.
Nurmagomedov (23-0 MMA, 7-0 UFC) fights Michael Johnson (17-10 MMA, 9-6 UFC) at next month’s UFC 205 event in a crucial 155-pound clash. Both fighters are among the top contenders in the division, and if Nurmagomedov wins, he would have a strong argument to challenge the winner of the UFC 205 title headliner between Eddie Alvarez (28-4 MMA, 3-1 UFC) and Conor McGregor (20-3 MMA, 8-1 UFC).
The Dagestani fighter would have likely already fought for the belt if injuries didn’t sidelines him for nearly two years of his career. He’s healthy and active again now, though, and said he’s is eager to capture the sport’s most prestigious item.
“I care about the belt,” Nurmagomedov told MMAjunkie content partner Champions.co. “I want to finish this fight and fight for the title. I don’t care who has the title, who wins (between Alvarez and McGregor). I don’t care about money.
“I know a lot of fighters fight for the money, but money is not everything for me. I know money is very important for life, but I have money. I never use MMA to make money. MMA for me is about my life, about my blood and about everything I do all my life. Money, I can make money with other stuff. I have money. I have everything. I need the belt.”
UFC 205 takes place Nov. 12 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass, though the bout order hasn’t been finalized.
Prior to the announcement that McGregor would challenge lightweight champ Alvarez in the UFC 205 main event, Nurmagomedov strongly believed he was next in line. He said he even received multiple bout agreements to compete against Alvarez, but once the McGregor fight was booked, he realized he was just a pawn in the negotiations.
“First of all, UFC sent me two agreements for UFC 206 and UFC 205 – I signed both of them,” Nurmagomedov said. “Before that, UFC asked me to fight with him in October and August. Four times Alvarez didn’t take this fight. I feel the UFC a little bit used my name to make this fight, Alvarez vs. McGregor, because McGregor ask for some money, Alvarez ask for some money, that’s why this fight is not happening. Then UFC put my name and send me two contracts, two agreements.
“McGregor understands, ‘Wow, this guy can beat Alvarez.’ He can put new rules. Alvarez understands I cannot take an easy fight like McGregor. I think both of them are a little bit scared. That’s why this fight happened. But first of all UFC use my name.”
Nurmagomedov, No. 2 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA lightweight rankings, was understandably frustrated with his position in the situation, but once it was clear he would be forced to take another fight before a title shot, he turned his attention to No. 11-ranked Johnson. “The Menace” is coming off a first-round knockout of Dustin Poirier at UFC Fight Night 94 in September and is arguably the quickest striker in the lightweight division.
Although it’s not the matchup he wanted most, Nurmagomedov wasn’t short on praise for Johnson. He lauded his opponent’s hands as the best in the division; he just thinks his style is the perfect counter to what Johnson offers.
“Michael Johnson is tough guy,” Nurmagomedov said. “I don’t think this fight is an easy fight. I think he has the best hands in the lightweight division. His movement is very good. He beat already (Edson) Barboza, he beat already Tony Ferguson, he knocked out Dustin Poirier. He’s a tough guy. I know my style for him is very bad. I know this. He has to move too much because I can catch him and grab him, take him down and submit him or make him tired then ground-and-pound and finish him. He understands this.
“Everybody understands I’m a strong wrestler and he’s a very fast boxer. For me, for fans, it’s a very interesting fight.”
If Nurmagomedov emerges victorious at UFC 205 he would be on a 24-fight winning streak with eight consecutive wins under the UFC banner. That’s a resume that speaks for itself, and if he isn’t rewarded with the Alvarez vs. McGregor winner, he said he’s not sure what would happen next.
“I feel I deserve a title shot because this is not about my UFC career, this is about my whole career,” Nurmagomedov said. “Eight-and-a-half years I’ve gone undefeated. I am undefeated, and after Michael Johnson I hope UFC gives me a title shot. We’ll see.”