Some figures in the sport are hoping the ex-lightweight champion can be coaxed out of retirement
UFC legend Khabib Nurmagomedov has dismissed talk of returning to the octagon in a bid to reclaim the lightweight title if his protege Islam Makhachev loses a touted bout against Charles Oliveira.
Nurmagomedov retired in 2020 as an unbeaten 29-0 great after submitting Justin Gaethje at UFC 254.
Honoring a promise to his mother to not continue fighting without his father Abdulmanap, who passed away from Covid complications that year, in his corner, the Russian has thus far kept his word while running his own Eagle FC promotion and acting as Makhachev's coach as he surges up the UFC rankings.
If Makhachev were to lose to Oliveira for the now vacant UFC 155lbs strap, Nurmagomedov admitted he would "feel bad" - but not bad enough to don his gloves again.
"If [Oliveira] beats Islam, of course I'm going to feel bad," Nurmagomedov confessed.
"Of course I'm going to feel bad, but no way people can talk about, 'Khabib is going to come back.' Please, leave me alone. Let these guys fight."
"This is different time, different fighters. Now, they are prime time. We have to understand who is the best lightweight in the world, Charles or Islam," the 33-year-old Nurmagomedov stressed.
The wrestling expert was probed on this topic after one of Nurmagomedov's closest friends in MMA, former UFC light heavyweight and heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, pondered whether Oliveira beating Makhachev would lure Nurmagomedov back for one last dance.
"Man, it'll be nice to see him [Oliveira] fight Khabib, right?" Cormier asked.
"Many people have said that, 'It'll be nice to know, it'll be nice to know.' What better way to try to draw him back in than by having Oliveira beat his friend, training partner and long time - it's another way to try to draw him in because obviously the money, Dana's throwing so much money at Khabib to try to get him back, that hasn't been enough.
"But what if defending his friend's honor is enough, if Islam doesn't get the job done?" Cormier posed.
For some fight fans, Oliveira is challenging Nurmagomedov's legacy which consisted of three title defenses with impressive submission wins over Dustin Poirier, Gaethje and Conor McGregor.
Though he was stripped of his belt on the scales at the weigh-in before UFC 274 for being 200 grams over the limit, Brazilian star Oliveira should already have two title defenses to his name by beating Poirier and Gaethje in his last two outings, before calling out McGregor in his post-fight interview.
Rather than have Oliveira taking on McGregor to become champion again later this year, though, Nurmagomedov is adamant that his 22-1 charge Makhachev deserves the title shot and has told Dana White as much while thus far being blanked by the UFC president.
"Honestly, this is first time since we started talking to each other that he don't respond to me," Nurmagomedov laughed, in the same chat with ESPN.
"I send him message saying 'No way someone else can fight for the title. Islam has to be there.' He don't respond. I think he busy, maybe. It's OK. Everybody make mistake. He's going to come back stronger."
"I hear they want to make a big show in Brazil in December," Nurmagomedov also explained. "OK, December is good for Islam. They don't want to go to Abu Dhabi? I hear Charles Oliveira's coach say, 'Come to Brazil.' No problem. Send us location.
"We'll go to Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, no problem. We'll go there two weeks before fight, rent some big house, come with big team, make weight - not like Charles Oliveira - and we're going to finish Charles Oliveira on his game, on the ground, on Brazilian land.
"We're going to teach all fans what is top control, how we finish people. We're going to take the belt and go back," Nurmagomedov menaced.
On one last topic, Nurmagomedov additionally addressed Tony Ferguson's offer for them to do battle as opposing coaches on The Ultimate Fighter, after also responding to the call out on Twitter.
"If me and Tony, we gonna be [TUF] coaches, I think they can create some good content," said Nurmagomedov.
"If they interested and if Dana respond to my message. He have to check his message... Dana, we have to finish our business, brother. Call me back," Nurmagomedov demanded.