Khabib: I don't know if I can get close to Ali or Tyson

By Sports Desk October 21, 2020

Khabib Nurmagomedov is on course to become the "GOAT" in the UFC, according to Dana White, but the fighter sees boxing icon Muhammad Ali "on a different level".

Lightweight champion Khabib is 28-0 heading into Saturday's fight with Justin Gaethje at UFC 254.

And president White suggests victory this weekend would represent a significant step towards the Russian being considered the greatest ever.

"Khabib is looking down the barrel of not just the greatest to ever do it in this division," he said.

"If he beats Justin on Saturday, he's the number one pound-for-pound fighter in the world and he's on his way to GOAT status."

But Khabib was then asked if he might soon be ranked alongside Ali and Mike Tyson, prompting a pessimistic answer.

"Muhammad Ali is on a different level," Khabib said. "Mike Tyson is almost the same level, but the personality of Muhammad Ali is a different level.

"For me to become like this is a really hard question. When I was growing up, I knew this guy was the greatest.

"I don't know if I can ever become close to these people. I didn't have this goal. I just want to win my fights.

"But we'll see in the future, because I'm not finished yet."

Despite some lofty goals, Khabib was reluctant to look beyond Gaethje, who is 22-2 and won the interim title against Tony Ferguson in May.

Asked what might be next if he defeated the American, Khabib - who has spoken of facing Georges St-Pierre - replied: "I don't like this word 'if'. You never know what's going to happen tomorrow.

"I'm focused on Justin Gaethje on Saturday night. What the UFC has after this fight you'd be better to ask this guy [White], because he calls us and then we talk about fights.

"What's going to happen after I don't know. Right now, I'm focused on Justin Gaethje."

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    Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez will be back in the ring on February 27, defending his WBA and WBC super-middleweight titles against Avni Yildirim.  

    Canelo claimed the belts in December, handing Callum Smith his first career defeat as he recorded a unanimous points triumph over the Englishman in San Antonio, Texas.  

    Now the Mexican superstar will head to Florida for his next outing, the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens chosen to stage the clash with Yildirim.  

    While keen to eventually unify the 168-pound division, the 30-year-old must first deal with his mandatory challenger for the WBC strap.  

    "Avni Yildirim is a good boxer and I know we will put on an exciting fight," said Canelo.   

    "I'm very glad that we are able to bring this event to Miami, a short distance from where my hero, Muhammad Ali, trained.   

    "February 27 will be a great night for the sport."

    Yildirim, who owns a 21-2 record as a pro, previously challenged for the vacant WBC belt in February 2019, losing via a technical decision after opponent Anthony Dirrell suffered a cut that forced their bout to be stopped.  

    However, the 29-year-old - whose other loss came against Chris Eubank Jr in 2017 - is ready to go to war as he aims to cause a huge upset.  

    "I am honoured as a mandatory to fight again for the big green belt - thank you to everyone who is involved," Yildirim said in a press release to announce the date. 

    "I always give my all – and everybody should be ready to see a war. I am coming to make my country proud – I am representing the whole of Turkey."

  • McGregor hopes for Khabib rematch but predicts Russian will be stripped of UFC title McGregor hopes for Khabib rematch but predicts Russian will be stripped of UFC title

    Conor McGregor is still hopeful Khabib Nurmagomedov can be tempted back to the Octagon but says he should be stripped of the UFC lightweight title if he refuses to return.

    Nurmagomedov called time on his career after defeating Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 in October but is in Abu Dhabi to attend the lightweight fight between McGregor and Dustin Poirier on Saturday.

    Dana White met with the Russian, who he said was looking for "something spectacular" if he was to go back on his decision to hang up his gloves.

    However, Nurmagomedov subsequently said fighting was not in his plans as he did not want to disappoint his mother, to whom he promised Gaethje would be his last opponent due to the death of his father and coach Abdulmanap.

    Asked about those remarks at a news conference to preview UFC 257, White responded: "I've told you guys. We'll see what happens this week."

    McGregor, who was submitted by Nurmagomedov at UFC 229 in a fight that was overshadowed by a post-bout melee outside the Octagon, added "we'll get him", before claiming that the lightweight title will soon be up for grabs.

    "I'd make the case if that man [Nurmagomedov] is continuing to dodge this and dodge the commitment of competing again, the title should be stripped and we should be engaging in a title fight," said McGregor.

    "I'm sure it'll happen after this bout. I'm interested to hear what the excuses are … but I predict a title strip.

    "As long as we fight again there'll be no issue [between us], that's it. If he continues to run, I'm not sure. We'll see what happens.

    "The world knows this fight is not over, this war is not over. The sport needs it to happen. I'm not gonna chase it if he doesn't want it and I'll keep my calm and move on."

    The fight with Poirier will be just McGregor's third at lightweight, having returned from a second retirement at welterweight when he took on Donald Cerrone in January last year.

    The former featherweight and lightweight champion claimed to have retired again, finding it difficult to fulfil his three-fight plan for 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but he is now anticipating a long run at 155 pounds.

    "I have not had that many fights at 155 in the UFC and I'm eager to put in a stint, to get a run going like I did with the featherweights," said McGregor.

    "I think I went seven or eight fights within a year and a half. That's what I'm looking for here if they can match me up. This is the best I've ever been for sure, and I'm at 155 pounds. But if I go back to 170 you best believe that'll be the best I've ever felt also."

    Poirier's camp suggested McGregor's weakness is his conditioning, but the Irishman does not agree with that assessment.

    "I think it's a myth. Obviously the first [Nate] Diaz fight I went from featherweight and a month or so later I was at welterweight, that's obviously gonna have an impact and then there were other issues," he said.

    "Overall, I think it's a myth. It's a myth that's out there and I hope we can answer it. I will answer it in time at some stage. I keep showing up here, someone's gonna be able to stay in there and fight with me. I hope it's this Saturday night. Do I think so? I do not. I'm in some shape here and I'm coming to put on a masterpiece."

    McGregor added: "I have a million shots. I have so many weapons in my arsenal and they're all fine-tuned at this time. I'm in a phenomenal place and I look forward to going out and showcasing, painting a beautiful picture."

  • Khabib considering UFC return but GSP not an option Khabib considering UFC return but GSP not an option

    Khabib Nurmagomedov could be tempted to make a comeback if a lightweight rival impresses him at UFC 257, Dana White has revealed. 

    The undefeated Khabib announced his retirement after beating Justin Gaethje to unify the lightweight division at UFC 254 last year, his first outing since the death of his father and coach Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov.

    However, White raised the prospect that the Russian may return for one more bout - if he likes what he sees out of a potential opponent next week. 

    That includes former foes Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier, who meet in the main event on Fight Island. Dan Hooker and Michael Chandler do battle on the same bill, with the winner potentially coming under consideration. 

    Charles Oliveira is also an option, having apparently grabbed Khabib's attention during his victory over Tony Ferguson at UFC 256 in December. 

    "The thing with him is, when you make the decision to retire, I knew he made the decision under unbelievable emotional stress," White told the media after Max Holloway's victory over Calvin Kattar in Abu Dhabi. 

    "His dad had died, he got hurt during that camp and couldn't train right, couldn't cut weight right. All the things he went through and then he went out and performed how he performed, then made that decision that night.  

    "Listen, you're not tying anything up. Go home, spend some time with your family. Heal up, think about it. 

    "Then he and I got together, and he said: 'I want to see if somebody really blows me away and impresses me next week'. 

    "You've got the co-main event and the main event, while Oliveira looked awesome against Tony Ferguson - that's an interesting fight for him. 

    "We will see what these guys do this weekend. I think it's fun - do you guys not want to see Khabib fight again? Hopefully, he sticks around and does one more." 

    However, White made clear that Georges St-Pierre is not on the shortlist of potential opponents. 

    "No, GSP never came up. He's not interested in that fight and, from what I hear today, neither is GSP. That's over," he said.

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