A rematch with Conor McGregor still doesn't appeal to Khabib Nurmagomedov, who told TMZ Sports (h/t ESPN's Marc Raimondi) on Wednesday that talk of the two fighting again can be dismissed as merely motivated by "drama and money":
Nurmagomedov doesn't believe a second scrap with McGregor would be a credible option for the UFC lightweight division of which he is champion. Specifically, Nurmagomedov was not wowed by McGregor beating Donald Cerrone in 40 seconds at UFC 246 in January.
According to Nurmagomedov, the challenge is for McGregor to prove himself all over again and test himself against tougher competition: "[Cerrone is] not a high-level lightweight, or welterweight, right now. Of course, he has a big name, but his time is finished. ... [McGregor] has to fight really tough opponents, like Justin Gaethje, or something like this. And he has to come back to the lightweight division, he has to cut weight."
Rather than gearing up to face McGregor again, Nurmagomedov is preparing to defend his title against Tony Ferguson at UFC 249. The 31-year-old believes his opponent at the Barclays Center on April 18 will present a more daunting challenge.
When comparing him to McGregor, Dustin Poirier and Edson Barboza, Nurmagomedov rated Ferguson as "a little bit more tough than all of them." Squaring off with Ferguson will provide a stern test of Nurmagomedov's ability to remain the dominant force in the division.
He's fought just once since returning from suspension for his part in the melee that took place both inside and outside the Octagon when he made McGregor, who was also fined and served a temporary ban, tap in the fourth round at UFC 229 back in October 2018.
The Russian won his comeback fight by wearing down Poirier at UFC 242 last September. Victory proved Nurmagomedov's submission skills were still without equal, while he remains in good enough condition to beat any top-ranked contender.
Doubts about McGregor's ability to do the same thing are reasonable, despite the Irishman being rumoured to be in talks to fight Gaethje, per Raimondi. However, Nurmagomedov's manager, Ali Abdelaziz doubts McGregor would pursue such a difficult opponent:
Putting two bitter rivals like McGregor and Nurmagomedov back face to face would no doubt be a huge draw for the UFC. The contrast in both fighting styles and personalities would make a rematch compelling viewing, even if all involved would need to avoid the unsavoury controversy that defined their first meeting.
Even so, McGregor would need to add a few more high-profile wins onto his post-comeback record to make the idea he could finally get the better of Nurmagomedov more credible.