If Khabib Nurmagomedov needs a reason to come back, Kamaru Usman is the challenge he’s looking for
Article Published by: mmafighting.com
Let’s get one thing out of the way first, Khabib Nurmagomedov ain’t coming back. At least not anytime soon.
Don’t tell that to Dana White though. The UFC boss has gone back-and-forth on the topic of Nurmagomedov possibly returning from retirement, one moment saying that he won’t push for “The Eagle” to defend the lightweight title he still officially holds, and the next saying that his promotion has yet to move on from Nurmagomedov despite the man himself insisting that he’s looking forward to a new champion being crowned.
As absurd as White’s pursuit has become, one can understand why he’s being so persistent. Primarily, the fact that during Nurmagomedov’s unbeaten run through the UFC he emerged as a potent box office draw, arguably second only to his longtime rival Conor McGregor. White has publicly salivated over the thought of matching the two up again after their UFC 229 grudge match broke UFC pay-per-view records.
Former Bellator champion Michael Chandler made a spectacular debut at UFC 257 and then called for a fight with Nurmagomedov, suggesting that he could be the man to stop Nurmagomedov from reaching 30-0 should he compete again. And, of course, there’s always the fantasy matchup with Georges St-Pierre that both men have teased in the past.
But “GSP” ain’t coming back either, so it’s unclear at this point what the UFC’s matchmakers can offer Nurmagomedov to convince him to reverse course away from the sunset. At least it was before UFC 258.
The in-cage pairing of Usman and Nurmagomedov isn’t a new suggestion, but it’s suddenly much more enticing with Usman having cleared out the current crop of compelling welterweight contenders with his thrilling third-round TKO of Gilbert Burns on Saturday. Nurmagomedov became a champion in 2018, Usman the following year, and there was never really a moment since that it would have made sense for the two to talk up a potential superfight.
Nurmagomedov was blessed with a natural rival in the brash McGregor, then found himself with two fan favorite challengers in Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje. Usman also had a ready-made feud for his first title defense against Colby Covington and then he followed that with an earlier-than-expected encounter with unlikely 2019 breakout star Jorge Masvidal.
Long story short, they took care of business and now find themselves with few options. That helps to explain both Nurmagomedov’s desire to step away from fighting and Usman’s call for a rematch with Masvidal, a bout that headlined a UFC 251 card that drew a reported 1.3 million pay-per-view buys. Practical considerations outweigh competitive prospects right now.
Except for one. Each other.
Usman is the closest that Nurmagomedov can get to fighting St-Pierre in his prime, so in a way that makes Usman a much more intriguing fight even if a matchup with St-Pierre would drum up more mainstream interest. If Usman continues on his current path, he’ll at least be in the conversation for greatest welterweight of all time, and he already has the feather in his cap of owning the longest win streak (13) of any fighter to ever compete in the UFC at 170 pounds.
Despite Nurmagomedov making his UFC debut three years before Usman, the two actually have the same amount of wins inside the octagon. Nurmagomedov can tout 29-0 all he wants, but as far as UFC marks are concerned, they’re dead even. Both battled their way to a title shot the old-fashioned way and both appear to be at the peak of their powers. It’s almost too perfect, outside of the fact that its Nurmagomedov who would take on the risk of jumping up to a higher weight class.
True, Nurmagomedov still has fresh challengers at 155 pounds, including Chandler and Charles Oliveira, but there is almost zero chance that those names bring him back into the fold. They’re high risk-low reward fights for him. The chance to add a welterweight title to his resume, hand Usman his first loss, AND fulfill “father’s plan” to go 30-0? That sounds like an offer that even the stoic Nurmagomedov has to consider.
If there’s any concerns about the amicable relationship between the two getting in the way of a potential booking, keep in mind that their shared management is more likely to grease the wheels than it is to impede the matchup. Nurmagomedov’s most recent title defense was against Gaethje, a fellow Ali Abdelaziz client. And Usman just did business with Burns, a former training partner and friend. As long as there are titles to be won and everybody gets paid, how could Nurmagomedov and Usman not at least text each other about the possibility?
White recently told reporters that he’s going to continue to have business dinners with Nurmagomedov until he receives a definitive “no” on the possibility of a comeback. Since we aren’t privy to the exact details of these conversations, we don’t know how firm Nurmagomedov has been with White, though it’s worth noting Nurmagomedov hasn’t volunteered to vacate the title yet. Not that he should be blamed for that. I know even if I was retired, I’d love to walk around with a gaudy UFC belt over my shoulder.
Clearly, White’s previous entreaties have yet to win Nurmagomedov over. The good news is that the next time they’re breaking bread, Usman’s excellence has provided White with an undeniably thought-provoking conversation starter.
About Jaime Bonetti Zeller
Jaime Bonetti Zeller is an investment professional and entrepreneur with businesses in multiple industries. He is president of Servicios Consulares Eurodom, the local partner in the Caribbean region for VFS Global, a leader global outsourcing and technology services specialist for diplomatic missions and governments worldwide. Jaime Bonetti Zeller also started the company Sofratesa de Panama inc., an organization in the engineering services industry located in Panama City.