Lightweight champion Nurmagomedov’s manager, Ali Abdelaziz, left a message cryptically hinting at the Russian extending his unbeaten run on Tuesday.
Abdelaziz sent rumors swirling by tweeting “30-0”, which would be Nurmagomedov’s record in the event of the Dagestani ending the retirement he announced last month and achieving one more win.
“Why not?” veteran Shlemenko asked Championat, when asked whether Nurmagomedov would follow the likes of Conor McGregor in reneging on retirement from the sport.
“Khabib left so quickly but he didn’t leave his belt. The belt still belongs to him.
“It seems to me that Khabib left in order to pass the belt to Islam Makhachev. But that fight breaks down and the ascent to the title fight is delayed.
“Of course, this is not the main reason. Perhaps there was some interest in the fight with Saint-Pierre.
“I regarded Khabib’s departure as a pause. He really needs it. His father and coach [Abdulmanap] died and the year was generally difficult.”
Makhachev cited injuries and illness as he withdrew from a fight with Rafael dos Anjos for the second time on Tuesday, having been forced out of the initial contest on the undercard of Nurmagomedov’s win over Justin Gaethje after testing positive for COVID-19.
Abdelaziz issued his teasing message hours after Makhachev’s announcement, and Nurmagomedov has previously challenged former welterweight and middleweight champion St-Pierre, who last fought in 2017, to exit retirement and face him.
39-year-old St-Pierre shares mutual admiration with Nurmagomedov, naming the Dagestani among the greatest fighters of all time last month and insisting that he would not ask his potential rival to end his retirement out of respect for his personal circumstances.
Shlemenko said that Nurmagomedov should not delay his plans over any criticisms about turning back on his announcement. “You can’t please everyone,” he warned.
“Those who want to throw out negativity will still come up with a reason to. This is just a hint so far. Maybe Abdelaziz is just fueling the intrigue.”
Dos Anjos wished Makhachev a speedy recovery but appeared to open up a row with Michael Chandler, the former Bellator champion who joined the UFC as an understudy for Nurmagomedov’s fight with Gaethje.
“If you don’t take a fight because you don’t have enough time to drop weight I get it – but don’t tell me you have other plans,” the ex-lightweight champion sai.
“I became the champion of the biggest organization by fighting everyone they put in front of me. Shame on you.”
Chandler responded: “I’ll go ahead and assume that the above statement was directed at me.
“We do have other plans and we won’t just abandon them out of the blue. Also, making weight this quick is impossible this soon after last cut. For the record, I was never offered this fight.”
Paul Felder has now stepped in to face dos Anjos in the headline fight at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on Saturday.