UFC

UFC 242: Curtis Blaydes excited by return of 'global icon' Khabib Nurmagomedov

By Sports Desk September 05, 2019

Khabib Nurmagomedov is a "global icon" and his return to the Octagon can only be a good thing for UFC, according to Curtis Blaydes.

It has been 11 months since lightweight champion Nurmagomedov defeated fierce rival Conor McGregor with a fourth-round submission in Las Vegas on an ugly night for UFC.

The bad blood in the build-up spilled over into a post-bout brawl that landed fines and suspensions for Nurmagomedov and McGregor.

Nurmagomedov later apologised but suggested pre-fight comments from McGregor in which he "talked about my religion, talked about my country, talked about my father" were behind the unsavoury scenes.

This weekend, Nurmagomedov returns to the Octagon for a blockbuster bout with Dustin Poirier at UFC 242 in Adu Dhabi and fourth-ranked heavyweight Blaydes is excited for the 30-year-old's comeback.

"I think Khabib is a global icon, he's a star," Blaydes told Omnisport. 

"He brings in the Russian audience, the European audience. Just for me, in general, he's a great wrestler and shows you can be a star in this game being predominantly a wrestler."

In Khabib's absence, Poirier scored a unanimous decision victory over Max Holloway to become the interim lightweight champion.

Poirier has gone undefeated in six straight fights and the number-one ranked lightweight in UFC is sure to be a tough challenge for Khabib, who is unbeaten in 27 MMA outings.

But Blaydes is tipping Khabib to emerge victorious on his return.

"I would lean towards Khabib, but they're both great," he added. 

"Poirier put away Justin Gaethje, who's amazing in his own right. But, if I was a betting man, I'd put my money on Khabib."


UFC® 242: KHABIB vs. POIRIER coverage starts live on UFC FIGHT PASS, BT Sport 2 and BT Sport Box Office this Saturday at 3:00pm and continues exclusively live on BT Sport Box Office at 7:00pm.

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    McGregor needed just 40 seconds to defeat Donald 'Cowboy' Cerrone in Las Vegas on Saturday, as the 31-year-old marked his comeback after 15 months away from the Octagon in style.

    And White believes McGregor has now reached the same level as stardom as icons such as Ali, Tyson and Leonard.

    "[Conor] is such a huge superstar. I put him up there with Tyson, Leonard," White told a media conference.

    "All of them," he added when asked if McGregor could be compared to Ali, considered to be the greatest fighter in boxing history.

    "He's got the biggest pay-per-view in pay-per-view history. How many of the top 10 does he have? I don't even know. He's one of the biggest stars out there.

    "A lot of the times coming in his career he's been doubted for his talent and he proves everybody wrong every time."

    White was also asked how much McGregor was worth to UFC, with a figure of $2billion suggested by a reporter.

    "Two billion dollars? Sounds like a good number, I'll take that," White joked. "I don't know what he's worth to the company but it's big.

    "You couldn't go anywhere without seeing this fight and knowing that this fight was on. All the people came out and watched the fight.

    "This is one of those fights that people who normally don't buy [do] buy, right? So, the number is always massive.

    "Then Conor comes out and does what he did tonight. You can't put a number on that. It's massive and it's global. The whole world was watching tonight."

    McGregor's previous fight came in October 2018, when he was defeated by Khabib Nurmagomedov.

    In his own post-fight news conference, McGregor outlined his intention to go up against the Russian once more, and White is eager to make a rematch happen.

    "We're at a place right now where Conor was saying that, going into the Khabib fight, he had lots of personal stuff," said White.

    "Some stuff [was] self-inflicted. He had injuries. He had all these things going on. He has been obsessed with getting that rematch because he knows that he wasn't 100 per cent right.

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    "It's huge for Khabib’s legacy, too. If he beat McGregor, then he beats Tony Ferguson, then he beats McGregor again, I mean, this is how this kid, when he retires, he's 30-something and, oh, he's beaten all of the best."

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    JORGE MASVIDAL

    A man, like McGregor, whose verbal skills match his technical ability. After a stellar 2019, which brought victories over Darren Till, Ben Askren and Nate Diaz, Jorge Masvidal has frequently tried to catch McGregor's attention, even going as far as to wear the same Versace robe the Irishman donned for his 2017 fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr when in attendance for the Cerrone bout. While 'the Notorious' laughed off that attempt to get under his skin, he once again conceded the prospect of facing Masvidal for the UFC's BMF belt is an interesting one.

    NATE DIAZ

    It seems unlikely a trilogy fight between McGregor and Nate Diaz will take place in the immediate future but who knows in the MMA game? Their first two encounters in 2016, which were split at one apiece, were among the most lucrative in UFC history. After McGregor's victory over Cerrone, Diaz took to Twitter to call out the event as "fake", prompting a reply from his long-time foe at a post-victory news conference in which he said: "Let's go brother, number three. It's always here, so we are right here Nathan."

    KAMARU USMAN

    McGregor made history in 2016 by becoming the first fighter in UFC history to hold belts in two divisions at the same time. After successfully stepping up to 170lbs to defeat Cerrone, the chance to hold a third strap at welterweight is sure to be of interest. The man currently in possession of the prize is Kamaru Usman. McGregor called out the Nigerian-American after his victory over Colby Covington last month and Usman has been unsurprisingly open to the idea. An intriguing sub-plot prior to the Cerrone fight was a series of unsavoury Tweets posted from Usman's account aimed at McGregor, though he later insisted he was hacked. 

    KHABIB NURMAGOMEDOV 

    There was bad blood in and out of the Octagon when McGregor and unbeaten lightweight king Khabib Nurmagomedov first waged war in October 2018. On that occasion, Khabib submitted McGregor before an all-out melee marred the win. McGregor has clamoured for another opportunity, while UFC president Dana White said of the possibility: "It's the fight you make, it's the fight that makes sense." Certainly, there would be plenty of eager eyes on this one.

    MANNY PACQUIAO

    In the immediate future, it looks as though McGregor still has goals in UFC he wants to accomplish. But prior to beating Cerrone, he made no secret of a desire to win a boxing world title and revealed talks were ongoing to face Filipino great Manny Pacquiao. Even at the ripe old age of 41, Pacquiao remains as active as ever and defeated Keith Thurman via a split decision to win the WBA Super welterweight champion last July. 

    FLOYD MAYWEATHER JR

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    McGregor returned after a 15-month absence on Saturday, claiming a rapid first-round victory over Donald 'Cowboy' Cerrone in Las Vegas, which took just 40 seconds.

    The 31-year-old had not fought since losing to Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2018, while the Irishman had also ventured into boxing when he faced Floyd Mayweather Jr in 2017.

    His time away from mixed martial arts started with a six-month ban imposed after a post-fight brawl outside the cage following his showdown with Khabib.

    McGregor was then arrested and charged with strong-armed robbery and criminal mischief in March 2019 after it was alleged he took a man's phone and smashed it on the ground in Miami – the charges were later dropped. In November last year, he was fined €1,000 after pleading guilty to an assault of a man at a pub in Dublin.

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    "I wasn't committed and it was a disrespect of the people that believed in me. People were taking the time away from their families to come and help me and I wasn't committed with it. I would train and then I'd go missing for three days and then I'd come back and it was sporadic and on my call."

    McGregor is adamant the only trick to success is hard work and discipline.

    "It's all about commitment and then just do what you need to do. All I did was put in the work," he added.

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