Acute Distance

Stuff that matters

Last month at UFC 254. lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov successfully defended his title against Justin Gaethje and then announced his retirement from the sport, citing the death of his father, Abdulmanap, and a promise made to his mother to stop competing. Just a few days after his announcement though, UFC President Dana White suggested that Khabib may not be done after all and teased that he believes the lightweight champion will return at least once more to pursue a 30-0 record. But though Dana White believes, or perhaps hopes, that to be true, not everyone else is so sure, including Khabib’s friend and teammate, former two-division champion Daniel Cormier.

Speaking on his ESPN show DC & Helwani, Cormier opined that Dana White is doing what he should as a promoter, hoping Khabib will change his mind, but that he still takes Nurmagomedov at his word that he’s done fighting.

“The only thing I said to Khabib was, ‘Brother, you have the shortest retirement in history. You retired for three days!’” Cormier joked. “We didn’t get much into it. We laughed about it a little bit but you know what, I think that if you’re Dana White, you’re saying what you need to. Hope that that is what Khabib wants to do.

“I think if you’re Dana White and the UFC, you’re hopeful that’s what Khabib wants to do, but like I said last week, if Khabib Nurmagomedov gives his word, generally that’s a fact. Now, would I be surprised with the economic impact that a fight he could have could bring that could bring him back? No, and I would not judge him for that if he came back. He’s 32 years old for God’s sake and he can still beat everybody in the world. But there are things that if he says it’s his word, I take him at that.”

Khabib’s retirement is sure to be a topic of much speculation in the coming months. For one thing, if he truly is walking away from MMA, it leaves a vacancy atop the best division in the sport. Again, the general consensus seems to be that the rumored upcoming rematch between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier will be for the vacant title but that would also mean the UFC has to give in to the notion that Nurmagomedov is retired, and thus far, Dana White is insisting they will not strip Khabib of his title. And for Cormier, that’s just good business. DC argues that given the value Khabib brings to the table, there is no reason to rush to move on from the lightweight champion.

“Now that’s smart,” Cormier said about not stripping Nurmagomedov. “I think that’s smart and that speaks to the value that Khabib has… Henry Cejudo said he was done, the same night they announced Petr Yan was gonna fight somebody for that title. You don’t do that to Khabib Nurmagomedov. You sit and hope. You sit and wait and hope. Like Dana said, he was very emotional. You could see it, it all came out of him. So you sit and you wait and you hope that the stance changes and you do get that thirtieth fight.

“You don’t (even) have to make a decision in January. I think you can wait until next summer… The reality is this though, with the way that things have gone with the pandemic and everything, Khabib was gonna fight in April but he didn’t fight until October (and) nobody was yelling, ‘Take the belt from him.’ You’ve got time in regards to Khabib Nurmagomedov and if push comes to shove and he needs more time, create another interim title and he just beats the interim champion. That’s exactly what’s happened the last couple times.”

Nurmagomedov does have a history of facing interim champions, having done so in his last two title defenses. And Cormier argues that it would be in the UFC’s best interest to create the opportunity for a third time, because if McGregor wins that interim title, that may be their best shot at getting Nurmagomedov to make the walk one more time.

“Could you imagine if McGregor gets ahold of the interim championship and now you got to Khabib and go, ‘Hey, October, Abu Dhabi, you and McGregor again, boatloads of money”? Because now, you’re Khabib, you walked away, you could say, ‘I want more,’ and there’s a good chance you’ll probably get more because that’s a home run. It’s a home run, you and McGregor.”