White: Conor-Khabib rematch the fight to make

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LAS VEGAS — Conor McGregor didn’t mention a specific opponent he’d want next after beating Donald Cerrone in just 40 seconds Saturday night in the main event of UFC 246 at T-Mobile Arena. It was another out-of-character moment in an out-of-character week for the fighter nicknamed “The Notorious.”

“I don’t think ‘the who’ matters,” McGregor said at the postfight news conference.

UFC president Dana White, though, did not share that sentiment. For White, there is one and only one foe that should be next for McGregor: Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Nurmagomedov, the undefeated UFC lightweight champion and one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world, beat McGregor by fourth-round submission at UFC 229 in October 2018. It was the highest-selling pay-per-view in UFC history, fueled by the bad blood between the two men.

That feud led to some ugly moments, including McGregor throwing a dolly through a bus window, and the postfight UFC 229 melee that led to McGregor, Nurmagomedov and members of their teams being suspended and fined by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC).

Even despite some of those red flags, White says he believes McGregor going for a rematch against the man who beat him — and the man who has the belt he used to hold — is the clear next fight. Though McGregor has plenty of options, including BMF champion Jorge Masvidal, White says he thinks Nurmagomedov is the man.

“We’re looking at Hagler-Hearns,” White said. “We’re looking at like Ali-Foreman, Ali-Frazier. This is a massive fight with global appeal. It’s the fight you make, it’s the fight that makes sense. It’s for the 155-pound title.

“If Conor and Masvidal fight, neither one of them even has a title. Although Conor does want his BMF title. He doesn’t have a world championship. So Khabib is the fight to make. It’s huge for Khabib’s legacy, too. If he beat Conor McGregor, then he beats Tony Ferguson, then he beats Conor McGregor again, I mean this is how this kid, when he retires, he’s 30-something-and-oh and he’s beaten all of the best.”

Nurmagomedov defends his title against Ferguson at UFC 249 on April 18 in Brooklyn, so that presents an obstacle to White’s plan. If Ferguson wins, White says he believes McGregor would want to fight him because he wants the title back. McGregor has expressed interest in Ferguson, as well.

On Saturday night, McGregor was noncommittal. He expressed concern about not wanting to wait for Nurmagomedov to return after the Ferguson bout. McGregor says he wants to fight three times this year. and that could throw a monkey wrench into White’s plan.

McGregor said he’s going to stay in Las Vegas until next week and sit down with White and former UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta to talk about the future.

“OK, the lightweight title will be there,” McGregor said. “You see the difference in [my] physique, the preparation and that. That will come around, that shot.”

There’s also an argument to be made that McGregor should not even be next in line for the lightweight title. Others such as Justin Gaethje have done enough to earn a shot at Nurmagomedov.

Of course, there are compelling reasons for Nurmagomedov-McGregor 2. White says he believes that rematch would be the biggest fight in UFC history, that it could do better than 3 million pay-per-view buys and could “rival” McGregor’s boxing match against Floyd Mayweather in terms of profit.

“There’s a lot of different things that make sense that you could do,” White said. “I’ve gotta see what [McGregor] wants to do. I know he wants this fight, and I think he’s willing to wait to get it.

“Look, do I want to see Conor fight three times this year? Sure. Do I want to see Masvidal against Conor? Sure. But you’ve gotta do what makes sense, too. And I just really think the Khabib-Conor fight is big for both of their legacies and obviously for the sport.”

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