New UFC champ Nurmagomedov sends message to McGregor, calls out GSP


UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov celebrates after a lightweight title bout win. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

The Eagle has landed himself a UFC title.

Khabib Nurmagomedov outclassed short-notice opponent Al Iaquinta via dominant unanimous decision in the main event of Saturday’s UFC 223 and now the promotion’s new lightweight champion has his sights set on Conor McGregor and Georges St-Pierre.

“I want to fight with Georges St-Pierre in New York, Madison Square Garden, November,” Nurmagomedov told Joe Rogan after placing his papakha on top of the UFC commentator’s head, which has become tradition every time Nurmagomedov mauls a foe.

Calling out St-Pierre was a surprise move considering Nurmagomedov now possesses the 155-pound belt McGregor held until recently when the Irish superstar was stripped by the UFC for never attempting to defend it. A matchup between the two incredible lightweight talents needs to be what the UFC tries to set up next.

Nurmagomedov (26-0) is regarded as the top grappler in mixed martial arts and is among the most feared athletes in the sport. McGregor is the most skilled striker, relative to his weight class, since Anderson Silva in his prime. The pair happen to share a strong dislike of one another as well.

Fights like this are a breeze to promote. A Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor clash is as compelling a fight as any the UFC could put together right now and it would undoubtedly generate global, mainstream attention.

However, McGregor’s future is up in the air after he stole headlines this week during what was perhaps the most hectic 48 hours in UFC history. McGregor is facing felony criminal mischief and misdemeanour assault charges stemming from a Thursday incident at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center during which he threw a dolly through a bus window, injuring several UFC athletes who were inside the vehicle.

Given all the madness that went down this past week, UFC president Dana White didn’t have much to say regarding what might be next for both Nurmagomedov and McGregor—he even admitted he wasn’t aware Nurmagomedov issued a challenge to GSP.

“We had talked about [McGregor] fighting in September. I don’t know anything about Conor now. There’s nothing to think about at this time. He has to go to court in June,” White told reporters at the post-fight press conference, before adding: “I don’t have any ideas after this week. My brain is scrambled and I’m a physical mess.”


Sure, being in business with McGregor has made White an even more wealthy man than he already was, but the loquacious and often unhinged McGregor has rarely made things easy for White and the UFC since he established himself as the organization’s top draw. He’s one of only four fighters in the company’s history to win titles in two different weight classes (the only to do so simultaneously) yet he never defended either of them.

We’ve seen UFC champions like McGregor turn down fights before—unfortunately it happens far too often—but that’s not an issue White will have to worry about with Nurmagomedov.

The stoic Dagestani accepted a bout with current featherweight champion Max Holloway on six days notice after his original opponent, Tony Ferguson, suffered a freak knee injury that will keep him on the shelf for months. When Holloway was denied medical clearance by the New York State Athletic Commission Friday morning, Nurmagomedov said yes to every replacement opponent proposed to him. First it was former 155-pound champ Anthony Pettis, then Paul Felder, before a bout with Iaquinta was finally approved.

“I want to say thank you for my opponent and his team. Iaquinta is real Brooklyn gangster,” Nurmagomedov said in his iconic broken English. “This is not about chicken. Iaquinta is real gangster. He come here. Where is Conor? He want to fight with bus? I want to fight with real gangster. … It doesn’t matter who. If you’re ready, if you want to be champion, what are you talking about stylistic [matchups] or different opponents? Right now, if the UFC gave me somebody I can fight. Right now. Give me 30 minutes rest, a little bit of drink water…give me 30 minutes and I can fight with anybody. Tony or Conor. Doesn’t matter.”

Nurmagomedov was involved in an altercation with McGregor’s teammate and close friend, Artem Lobov, earlier during fight week. It apparently made McGregor’s blood boil because a couple days later he went full hooligan in an alleged attempt at retribution.

“I hope he’s going to fight. We have to fight,” Nurmagomedov said. “Like, make world tour. Everywhere, like Tokyo, Moscow, Dublin, Los Angeles, Rio. Big world tour, promote this fight and fight end of year, biggest arena in the world. Madison Square Garden. Why not? … I’m here. He want to become lightweight champion? He have to fight with me. No more these all fake champions. You guys remember when he put tweet, ‘Beg me.’ Please beg me.”

Nurmagomedov added: “We have to finish this beef. … You want to fight? Come. I told you guys, we’re gonna make him humble. I told you guys, I’m gonna change this game. You know? Now, only one champion. No more fake champions. No more champion who never defend his title, or something like this. Now, UFC have champion, and this champion wants to defend his title. You want to fight? Come here. Inside the cage, come. Outside the cage, let me know without camera, without all this media. Like men. He come when a lot of security here, outside the bus, inside the bus, security here, don’t let me go out. Like, he try to, ‘Hey, come out,’ like this. Why you need this show up? Let me know and that’s it. Any time.”

While Nurmagomedov’s budding rivalry with McGregor is an intense one, he clarified that his call-out of St-Pierre is all about respect and legacy. He also clarified that he’d only want to fight the Canadian legend if St-Pierre decided to try his luck down in the 155-pound division, something St-Pierre has said in the past he’d be open to considering.

“No, please, not 170, with Georges St-Pierre? No,” Nurmagomedov explained with a smile. “When I talk with my father one year ago he told me his dream fight me vs. Georges St-Pierre because I remember when I grow up, like 11, 12 years ago, when I [competed in the Junior Combat Sambo championships in Dagestan], he fight for UFC title. When I grew up, I watch his fights, like all fights with my father. He is greatest athlete who ever compete in UFC. Middleweight, welterweight champion, and I hear he wanna come and fight in 155, take this belt, make history, become [the first] UFC three-division champion. Why not? Me vs. Georges St-Pierre.

“If I beat Conor or if I beat Georges St-Pierre, which one is better for my legacy? Maybe for money, it’s Conor, but for legacy it’s Georges St-Pierre. But we don’t know about money too because me vs. Georges St-Pierre is going to be a big fight.”

For now, it looks as though a Nurmagomedov-GSP tilt is improbable at best.

A Nurmagomedov-McGregor scrap, on the other hand, is exactly what the sport needs right now.

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