UFC Rumors: Latest on Khabib vs. Gaethje and Conor McGregor's Potential Return

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMay 14, 2020

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - MAY 09: Justin Gaethje of the United States speaks to the media after his Interim lightweight title fight against Tony Ferguson of the United States during UFC 249 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on May 09, 2020 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

After UFC 249, there's a new must-see fight to make at lightweight in Justin Gaethje vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov

The cursed matchup between Tony Ferguson and Nurmagomedov took yet another blow. After the fifth cancelation of the bout, it was Gaethje who may have finally put the fight to rest with his fifth-round TKO win at Saturday's pay-per-view to take the interim lightweight crown. 

Unlike Ferguson-Khabib, which was years in the making, it looks like fans could see Nurmagomedov put his undefeated record on the line against Gaethje sooner rather than later. 

Dana White said that he is looking to make the fight happen this summer. It could take place on the "Fight Island" that the organization is reportedly looking to put into place as early as June, and he wants the lightweight title fight to be one of the first attractions to take place at the new venue.  

"I don't know if it will be the first one, but it will be on Fight Island, unless miraculously the world comes back together faster than I think it's gonna," the UFC President said on ESPN 1000 Chicago. "Hopefully it will be done by mid-June, and I could put on a fight that weekend that it's done or end of June." 

White is setting an aggressive timeline for the fight if June or even July is the target. For Gaethje's side, he won the fight convincingly but still absorbed 136 significant strikes. He'll need time to recover and get a full camp in before taking his first shot at the undisputed belt. 

Nurmagomedov's situation is a little more complicated. As a Muslim, Nurmagomedov observes Ramadan, which includes fasting from April 23-May 23. Traditionally, he has taken time off after the period of fasting to ramp up his training. His quickest turnaround occurred in 2013. He fought 45 days from the end of Ramadan that year when he beat Pat Healy at UFC 165. 

For what it's worth, The Eagle hasn't ruled out a July return. In response to an ESPN MMA post on Instagram (h/t Jed Meshew of MMA Fighting), he said, "I can fight anytime" and "July, I'm gonna be ready."

Unfortunately, the health of Nurmagomedov's father and coach Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov could also now play a role in when The Eagle returns to the cage. He has reportedly been flown to a special military hospital in Moscow and is in a medically induced coma due to complications from pneumonia. 

The UFC released a statement acknowledging the elder Nurmagomedov's condition, and longtime nemesis Conor McGregor sent his well-wishes to the family. 


McGregor Eyeing Return at Lightweight; He Won't Wait for Live Audience

Speaking of McGregor, it appears he has the itch to get back in the Octagon again. It started with a Twitter tirade the Monday following UFC 249, in which he targeted Nurmagomedov, called for a fight against Gaethje and suggested a matchup between Tony Ferguson and Dustin Poirier. 

There appears to be more momentum than just a social media tirade. 

ESPN's Ariel Helwani reported that, according to McGregor's manager, the star had a close eye on UFC 249 because of concerns over how the UFC would handle the health and safety of fighters and staff along with what it would be like fighting in an empty arena. 

According to Helwani, the event went well in The Notorious' eyes. 

"Does this mean he has a fight signed for July? No. But it means he liked what he saw," Helwani wrote, "It means he is confident in the UFC's abilities to hold an event during these times, and he is at peace with the idea of fighting in an empty arena."

That makes the timetable for a McGregor return wide-open. While he called for a fight with Gaethje, it doesn't make much sense given Gaethje's position as the interim champion. He could opt to wait until Nurmagomedov is ready and fight for the undisputed title. 

Inserting McGregor back into the lightweight picture makes things interesting. The Notorious has only won one fight at lightweight despite being a champion of the division at one point. 

A fight against the champion can't be discounted. The UFC isn't above letting an attraction the magnitude of McGregor cut in line, but there's also a good chance he'd rather fight someone who's a better stylistic matchup than Nurmagomedov anyway. 

Either way, the lightweight division is once again one to keep an eye on.