Last month at the T-Mobile Arena in Paradise, Nevada, UFC 209 came to a close under a huge shadow of controversy. In the highly-anticipated rematch between Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson, Woodley successfully defended his welterweight title via point decision, Cynthia Cavillo beat Amanda Cooper with a rear-naked choke, but the headlines were dominated by one of the fights that ended up not happening.
Alongside the welterweight title, the interim lightweight title was supposed to be on the line at UFC 209, with Tony Ferguson squaring up against the undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov. Both fighters went under strenuous weight-cutting routines in preparation for the fight, but the fight was cancelled when Nurmagomedov was hospitalised, hours before UFC 209 got underway.
With this being the third time a potential fight between Nurmagomedov and Ferguson was left dead in the water, Tony Ferguson was bitterly disappointed not to face his opponent, and while both fighters went through strenuous weight-cutting, Ferguson accused his opponent of not taking his preparation seriously, trolling Nurmagomedov on Twitter.
“He was being unprofessional. He was eating ice-cream. He was eating all this bulls*** food. He comes in way overweight the week of the fight. That’s just being unprofessional. It doesn’t matter if he’s cutting at 170 or 145 or 185, if you’re coming unprofessional, you’re not going to make the weight… I found out too that he was eating tiramisu a couple of weeks ago on Embedded.”
Apart from an apology statement, Nurmagomedov has stayed out of the limelight since UFC 209, but the situation wasn’t helped either by his father, who said in an interview with Russian outlet Life.ru, before the proposed fight, that he expected his son to retire in the next 18 months.
“I don’t want to upset any fans but Khabib is 28 years old and by 30 he has to finish his career. I’ve never voiced this opinion before, didn’t talk about it to anyone. But I’m afraid he’s got left 1.5 years. I want him as a healthy, thinking person. I want him to develop other fighters. In such a big sport, a career between 24-30 years old is enough.”
Combined, these two stories sparked a series of rumours that threatened to undermine Nurmagomedov as he continued his recuperation in private. Speaking on MMA Hour, however, Khabib broke his silence following his hospitalisation, and addressed the rumours swirling around his career.
“Nobody is trying [to get me to retire]. I know my father talked about this with Russian media, and U.S. media make, like, different translation. But how I retire if I have to fight for the title? Now, I have very big name, and now, a lot of big fights are coming. How I retire? I no understand, who talk about this?”
Nurmagomedov rebuffed out of hand the allegation made by his would-be opponent Tony Ferguson he ate tiramisu while attempting to cut weight, and says he doesn’t “understand why people talk about this”.
“We’re going to restaurant and we chill together, everything, but [I was the only one] cutting weight. The other guys, no cutting weight, and everybody eat everything. But I don’t eat any of this stuff. I eat only my food. I no understand why people talk about this. Somebody ordered cake and somebody eat cake — of course somebody eat cake — but I don’t eat nothing. I don’t eat this cake.”
Nurmagomedov also spoke about the harrowing liver damage that ruled him out of UFC 209 – revealing his conversation with his doctor shortly after being hospitalised.
“In the evening [before the fight], I feel badly. I feel different. I never feel like this… The doctor say, ‘you cannot fight. You almost die. How you fight? How you can fight if you almost die? We say no fight, 100 percent. No make weight. No fight. No nothing. You need to stay in the hospital for seven hours, we have to make sure your body is good.’ But I feel I almost died.”
Khabib Nurmagomedov’s setback is one of many out-of-cage issues that have plagued the Russian’s career, and speaking to MMA hour, Nurmagomedov admitted that while the lightweight title might be out of his reach, the 28-year-old still has designs on finally taking on Tony Ferguson.
“I pull out. Maybe I don’t deserve [to fight for the title] now. We have Conor [McGregor], he’s going to fight with [Floyd] Mayweather. He thinks he’s going to fight with Mayweather. And Tony Ferguson, who? Now this is biggest fight in UFC lightweight division, Tony versus me. This is biggest fight, and I no understand. I hope I fight with Tony now. This is dream fight. This is like my dream fight. If UFC say, ‘hey, you want to fight for the title or you want a fight with Tony Ferguson?’ Of course I say give me Tony Ferguson. I want to fight with him so badly. This is crazy. This is my No. 1 dream fight.“
Winning 24 out of 24 in his MMA career so far, Nurmagomedov will probably remain a significant scalp in the UFC landscape if he continues his unbeaten streak. For the Russian to repair his reputation, though, he’s going to have to follow through on the majority of his fights from now on, before he can start seriously thinking about winning titles again.