LOS ANGELES — Undefeated lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov will be on the sidelines on Saturday, when Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee square of for the interim lightweight title in the main event of UFC 216 in Las Vegas.
It’s not an unusual spot for Nurmagomedov, who for various reasons has only competed twice in the past three-and-a-half years.
But according to Lee, there’s one particular reason why the Dagestani standout isn’t in the center of the title picture despite his 24-0 record: He doesn’t believe Nurmagomedov wants to fight anyone of note.
“It’s weird,” Lee said at a Monday media event promoting UFC 216. “The man don’t fight! So, what can I do? What can I do? How longs that dude been out? How long, it’s been over a year now? He doesn’t want to fight nobody, really. He doesn’t want to fight nobody that proves to be a challenge to him. He wants to hold on to that imaginary ‘0’ that he thinks he’s got.”
The next logical step from there would seem to be for Lee, should he defeated Ferguson, to square off with Nurmagomedov next. But while Lee seems open to the idea, he’s not about to commit to it, at least not with champion Conor McGregor looming in the distance.
“I said I’d take [Nurmagomedov] on in December, Dec. 2, but I don’t know,” Lee said. now Conor’s saying that saying he might come back earlier, so, we’ll see. We’ll see how this one shakes up after. I’m interested in that, I’m interested in taking on Tony, and then fighting Khabib in December, and then defending the title against Conor, but we’ll see how things shake out.”
Still, Lee does admire one thing about Nurmagomedov, whose last appearance was his dominant victory over Michael Johnson at UFC 205: His ability to stay in the headlines without setting foot in the cage.
“He’s got a whole country behind him,” Lee said. “He’s got all of Russia. The man don’t even have to fight and somehow he’s still keeping himself in the media.”