UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov announced his retirement from MMA following his victory over Justin Gaethje at UFC 254. He said at the time that it was his last fight, but UFC President Dana White expressed the opinion that Nurmagomedov would ultimately return. He doubled down during Saturday's slate of fights and said that the UFC fighter could return to reach 30-0 in his career.
"Basically, the way that [Nurmagomedov] feels right now is that he has accomplished everything he has set out to accomplish," White said to Jon Anik. "[But] he thought [Charles] Oliveira looked good in his last fight against Tony Ferguson. Next Saturday, we got the [Conor] McGregor-[Dustin] Poirier fight and [Michael] Chandler and [Dan] Hooker on there.
"So his words to me were, 'I'm going to watch this fight.' He said, 'I would never tie up the division, hold the belt and keep the belt away from anybody else. But if these guys do something spectacular — show me something spectacular and make me want to come back and fight.'" White explained that he believes Nurmagomedov would be interested in coming back and fighting someone from UFC 257 based on their in-ring performances.
"This was my last fight," Nurmagomedov said in October after defeating Gaethje. "There's no way I'm going to come here without my father. ... After what happened with my father — when UFC called me about Justin — I talked with my mother [for] three days, 'should I go fight without my father?' I promised her it was gonna be my last fight. And if I give my word, I have to follow it." The fighter further showed his seriousness by leaving his gloves in the octagon before walking away.
Nurmagomedov lost his father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, in July due to COVID-19 complications. The championship-winning coach had been placed in a medically-induced coma in May after reportedly contracting pneumonia. Doctors diagnosed him with the coronavirus while he was in the hospital. Nurmagomedov also later underwent heart surgery for a preexisting condition further complicated by the virus.
Nurmagomedov's father passed away as he was stuck in Russia due to a travel ban. The undefeated fighter had a bout scheduled with Tony Ferguson, but it fell through. Gaethje stepped in and secured the win, as well as the interim lightweight title. He then issued a challenge to Nurmagomedov and said that there was no one else he wanted to face.
The 32-year-old Nurmagomedov still holds his title despite announcing his retirement in October. He could return to defend the belt, which could potentially set up a rematch with McGregor. The two fighters previously faced off during UFC 229, with Nurmagomedov securing a victory by submission during the fourth round.