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26th Apr 2018

‘Khabib says they are in talks with Conor and they appear to be moving forward’

Kevin Lee, Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier are making their plays for a shot at the UFC lightweight belt

Patrick McCarry

Kevin Lee, Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier are making their plays for a shot at the UFC lightweight belt. The return of the former ‘Champ Champ’ would blow all the pretenders and contenders out of the water.

Conor McGregor has a court date in Brooklyn, stemming from the Barclays Center bus attack, on June 14 but talks are ongoing about his UFC future.

The UFC is set to make its event-hosting debut in Russia this September. A fight between featherweights Yair Rodriguez and Zabit Magomedsharipov is being lined up for the event and it will feature a few more Russians on the card.

Newly crowned UFC champion Khabib Nurmagomedov will observe Ramadan this May and June but he has stated his intention to return later this year. He has one eye on the promotion’s November visit to Madison Square Garden, in November, but a main event fight in Russia could yet sway him.

Since winning the belt by defeating Al Iaquinta at UFC 223, Nurmagomedov has found himself called out by just about every ranked lightweight. Poirier and Lee have made their cases stronger with recent victories while former champion Alvarez is playing on his Philadelphia roots to coax match-makers into booking him in for a Rocky IV homage title fight in Russia.

If McGregor gets his legal issues squared away, and the UFC does not impose severe sanctions after his attack on the bus carrying Nurmagomedov at the Barclays Center loading bay, then he would zoom to the top of the queue.

McGregor’s striking coach Owen Roddy told Express Sport that no return date has been set but ‘Conor is adamant he’s getting back’. Asked about a comeback, Roddy said:

“For me, the sooner the better. The UFC is really missing Conor, I believe, and I think everybody is missing the whole extravaganza of a Conor McGregor fight. There’s nothing like it in the world. And I think the people in the world want to see it again. The sooner the better.”

Positive sentiments and a positive update from Nurmagomedov’s camp.

In an Instagram post, which appeared not long after Lee’s victory over Edson Barboza at UFC Atlantic City, Nurmagomedov wrote, ‘At this moment, atmosphere is very heated – There is Conor and Tony, Poirier, Lee and Alvarez, all of them are good. Fight with any of these guys would be very interesting and competitive.’

Former UFC star Chael Sonnen took this tale on further, by declaring:

“‘According to Khabib, who is a pretty straight guy, he says they are in talks with Conor and they appear to be, at this point, moving forward. That just makes the most sense.

“They can’t go to Tony. We’re not sliding Tony… he’s out. He’s got an injury that can take him anywhere from six to eight months to get back. And that’s just rehab. We’re not talking about fighting… Conor has got some red tape.”

Sonnen is one of the best self promoters in the mixed martial arts game and has never been averse to making big, bold claims. While he publicly stated that McGregor would struggle against Jose Aldo before their featherweight title fight, in 2015, he has been spot on with a couple of his predictions (that Jon Jones’ fight with Anthony Johnson would be cancelled and that Michael Bisping would fight Georges St-Pierre at UFC 217).

Sonnen believes the UFC may well keep the lightweight division ticking over by lining up Lee vs. Poirier so there is a genuine contender to take on Nurmagomedov if McGregor and Ferguson are kept out of action a while longer.

As for ‘The Eagle’, well, in his words – ‘Whoever the UFC decide to fight me with, I’ll sign.’