Now officially considered one of the best MMA fighters today, Khabib Nurmagomedov leaves behind a legacy to remember. Retiring 29-0, there is no questioning what Khabib has been able to do inside the octagon.
Are there some unresolved questions surrounding Khabib, however?
While he may have accomplished a lot, one can’t help but wonder what may have held him back from every critic out there singing his praises. Some issues could be his own fault, while the others were from external factors. Here are the top “What if…” questions of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s career.
What If… Conor McGregor Never Held The Lightweight Division Hostage?
All of the drama surrounding Khabib and McGregor can be dated back to beyond a scuffle with Artem Lobov.
In 2016, Khabib, riding a seven-fight win streak in the UFC, signed a deal that could have resulted in him facing then-champion Eddie Alvarez for the UFC lightweight title. However, it would be the then-UFC featherweight champion who got the shot, looking to make history inside Madison Square Garden. Khabib voiced his displeasure of the fight, but couldn’t do anything about it.
Easily taking care of Michael Johnson at UFC 205, Khabib continued to state how unhappy he was. The MSG crowd, full of McGregor fans, would boo him as he claimed he was the true contender.
When McGregor won the title, he never defended it once. In fact, he had to be stripped of both titles due to inactivity. While Khabib would beat Al Iaquinta for the vacant title, a title fight against Alvarez or an automatic bout with McGregor could have potentially resulted in a long run with the title.
What If… Khabib Was Healthy?
Some forget that MMA almost lost the Russian due to many injuries suffered early in his UFC career.
After beating Rafael Dos Anjos back in 2014, Khabib was scheduled to face Donald Cerrone that year. Not long after the bout was announced (20 minutes to be exact), however, Khabib was scrapped from the fight following a knee injury. Looking to reschedule the bout, lingering knee issues in 2015 forced him out of the bout.
One of his final injuries happened in 2015, against Tony Ferguson. Scheduled to fight one another during The Ultimate Fighter 22 finale, a rib injury forced him out. It would not be the last time he and Ferguson would miss one another. It was also the moment we thought we would never see Khabib in an octagon again.
Two years of “The Eagle’s” career was affected as a result. If he was healthier during that time, he potentially could have already had had 30 wins and a lengthier title reign.
What If… Khabib vs. Tony Ferguson Happened?
The one that got away.
As previously mentioned, the rib injury suffered by Khabib would not be the last time a bout between him and Ferguson was nixed. Five times this fight has been booked and forced to be put to the side.
Following the Khabib rib injury, the two were supposed to fight in 2016. Ferguson, however, dealt with a lung issue. In 2017, the two were supposed to fight for the interim UFC lightweight title, the real title in limbo. A botched weight cut, however, forced Khabib off of UFC 209.
In one of the most bizarre timelines, until recently, 2018 was supposed to be a bout to determine the undisputed UFC lightweight champion. Just a few days after showing an intense workout, Ferguson was out of the Brooklyn-based UFC 223 fight following a knee injury. This was when Conor McGregor came to Brooklyn and threw a dolly at a bus full of fighters. If you thought that was bizarre, you haven’t seen anything yet.
This year, the two were supposed to fight at UFC 249, once again in Brooklyn. It was a pandemic that altered plans. COVID-19 hit New York hard, forcing events to not take place there. UFC tried hard to keep the fight intact, even looking into multiple locations, but Khabib ended up going back to Russia to quarantine. Ferguson would end up facing Justin Gathje and would lose via TKO, ending any opportunity to face Khabib in the future.