When Khabib Nurmagomedov was first informed that Tony Ferguson was injured and unable to complete in their April 16 main event, he insisted that the UFC find him an opponent. Several days later, Daniel Horcher - relative unknown - was signed and slotted against the undefeated Dagestani.
Despite the seemingly lopsided match-up, Khabib plans to treat his opponent just as seriously as he would a title fight.
"When I go to the cage, I go like (it is) a championship fight," Khabib told Ariel Helwani on the MMA Hour. "Because if I lose this fight, I lose everything. I have to win. I cannot now relax and think, this guy is a new guy to the UFC. I don't think like this. I have to focus on my fight, focus on my opponent like [he is] ‘Cowboy' or Tony Ferguson or RDA. I have to come back and I have to win this fight."
Though Khabib's most recent victory unanimous decision against current lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos, that victory took place two years ago. A recent series of injuries forced Khabib to sit on the sidelines and watch the division pass him by temporarily. He even contemplated retirement following his most recent injury, but decided against it in the end.
"I haven't fought for two years. I need to fight with somebody," Nurmagomedov said. "I need to fight because all of my fans are waiting for me to fight. My fans are tired, because for two years I haven't fought. Injured, injured, injured. This is a very hard time for me. I need to feel blood. I need to feel crazy. I need to throw somebody in the cage.
"This is why I asked, please, keep my fight on this card. I want to come back the 16th of April. A lot of my fans are upset and waiting for my next fight. If I have my next fight in two months, maybe my fans never believe I'll come back. That's why I need to fight the 16th of April. I want to come back."
Given the significance behind his return - the undefeated fighter who many considered the uncrowned champion - Khabib refuses to underestimate his opponent come April 16.
"I watched a couple fights. I don't think he's easy money for me," Nurmagomedov said. "I don't think like this. My mind thinks this is a hard fight for me, because I have to think like this. I cannot think, oh, this guy is easy money for me. I cannot. This is very bad for me. I think about this guy is very tough, this guy is a southpaw. I think about he has a very hard left punch. I think about everything, and I have plans. I have plans: pressure, move forward, dominate. And we'll see what happens after."
Transcription via MMAFighting.com.