White trumpeted closure to the will-he-won’t-he future of the UFC’s reigning 155lbs champion after holding talks with the Russian standout on “Fight Island” last weekend.
But with a declarative black or white decision expected, fight fans were instead given a more grey outcome when White revealed on last Saturday’s UFC broadcast that Khabib would survey this weekend’s duo of lightweight bouts which top the UFC 257 card.
White said that Nurmagomedov had delayed his decision until after this weekend’s fight card, saying that he needs to see something “spectacular” from at least one of the four lightweights in action this weekend – potentially setting up what would be a highly-lucrative rematch with Conor McGregor should the Irishman impress in the headline bout opposite Dustin Poirier.
“He’s corning on Wednesday and then he leaves. He leaves and goes to Vegas. So I will have the fight and fly home on Sunday and I’ll see him again in Vegas,” White told the assembled media, including RT Sport, in Abu Dhabi.
“Those fights will have played out. He and I are going to hook up and go to dinner in Vegas and talk again and we’ll make a decision. One thing that he did say is, ‘I’ll never hold up the division.‘”
Both fighters in Saturday’s main event, McGregor and Poirier, have suggested that they believe the fight should be contesting the world title that they say Nurmagomedov abandoned when he made his emotional retirement announcement in the moments after his second-round submission finish of Justin Gaethje in October – but White says that the lightweight frame will be clearer soon, whether that involves Khabib or not.
“He just said that he won’t hold up the division, so he’s either going to fight somebody or he’s going to walk away,” White added.
Another of the potential candidates to welcome Nurmagomedov back to the cage, Michael Chandler, isn’t allowing himself to get caught up in the speculation.
“A lot of times when you’re focusing on something, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that it ends up not happening,” said Chandler, who fights Dan Hooker in the co-main event.
“You focus so much (on), ‘I’ve got to be spectacular. I’ve got to get a knockout. I’ve got to get a submission.
“‘Khabib is a wrestler, so maybe he wants a wrestling challenge. Let me go out and wrestle Dan Hooker, so he thinks I’m a good enough wrestler for him to challenge.’
“I don’t want to think about that. I want my performance to speak for itself.”