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Khabib on Max Holloway’s short notice UFC 223 decision: ‘I would never take this’

Khabib Nurmagomedov sounded very respectful of his new opponent, Max Holloway, ahead of UFC 223. But he made it clear, if the shoe were on the other foot, he wouldn’t be taking a fight on short notice.

Khabib Nurmagomedov may have plenty of respect for Max Holloway’s status as one of the winning-est fighters in the UFC, but that doesn’t mean he necessarily agrees with Max’s decision making. Even when it benefits him directly.

The Dagestani lightweight title challenger made a recent appearance on the MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani to talk about his upcoming UFC 223 title fight. A fight that was supposed to be against (née) interim champion Tony Ferguson. Instead, however, Ferguson is out – an unfortunately placed cable and a torn knee ligament to blame – and in his place is featherweight champion Max Holloway.

Holloway’s willingness to step in, on just a week’s notice, coming off an ankle injury, and way off his normal target weight (by all accounts), caught everyone by surprise. Including Khabib, as he explained.

“I say, ‘This is for real belt?’” Khabib explained, remembering the UFC offer for the Holloway bout. “They say, ‘Yes.’ When fight beginning, when you make weight, make weight. Because if 155.5, no belt. I have to make 155. They say, ‘When you guys beginning fight, Conor and Tony strip belts. You become champion. Only one king in this division. I say, ‘Of course, I’m going to take this fight.’ But I tell them, ‘How you give me this guy? Because one month ago this guy pull out because he injure something. And now six days before fight?’ I didn’t understand.

“Like, to be honest, if somebody asked me... Like if Dana called me and said, ‘Hey, you have fight after one month?’ I would never take this. Because I care about my legacy. I don’t want to fight for the money. I no need fight for the money, you know? But every person is different. Max Holloway, I hear about he is interested, ‘I don’t care about belt, I care about check.’ I think UFC tell him, ‘Hey, we gonna give you good money, you have to come here.’ And he say, ‘Of course.’ Because this is a very big PPV show, and he’s part of the PPV. Of course he’s gonna take this fight, because he want to fight for the money. I respect him – Aloha, Max! – but, he champion for reason in 145.

“If you watch, he fight Aldo, Aldo twice. He fight Pettis, Jeremy Stephens, Ricardo Lamas, all these guys, nobody wrestling. I watch his whole twelve-win streak, nobody’s like me. Nobody’s wrestling with him. But now, he’s on different territory, different weight classes, different animals. Everything is different. And he have opponent, young, like him. If he fight before, like Pettis and Aldo? These guys are already finished. Now he have different opponent. Young, hungry, bigger than him, more strong than him. We have more good wrestling pressure, undefeated. I think this is going to be a long night to him.”

“For me, I never take this. Why I need take this fight?” Khabib continued. “I need eight weeks, train hard. Last one week, make weight, and go to the war. Because when I go to war, I have to know, ‘Hey, I’m ready, or no?’ Because six days? You cannot be, you cannot train. You have to cut weight all six days. This is not about, ‘Oh I’m tough, let me show you guys how I’m tough.’ Of course I’m tough, but I’m smart too. I’m more smart than tough.

“People watch on my record and they think, ‘Oh, this guy tough.’ This is not about tough, this is about mind. This is about how you think when you fight. This is about everything.

“Why I need take some fight. If UFC gave me fight? I try, no injuries, come here, make weight, fight. But other stuff? I don’t care. If UFC have problem, this is a UFC problem. That’s why my name is Khabib, other name is UFC. I care about my legacy. UFC already have his legacy. UFC is the biggest organization right now in the world. Without UFC or no, people are going to remember this. I want people remember my name: Undisputed, undefeated, UFC lightweight champion. And why I need to take six days before some fight? I don’t do this.”

Khabib also talked about his intial reaction to the news, and his hope that it was just a bad April Fools joke. As well as asking the UFC to bring in the ‘Burger King’ Conor McGregor as his short notice opponent. There are thoughts on Tony Ferguson, Holloway’s weight cut, and much much more, so check the whole thing out.

UFC 223 takes place this Saturday, April 7th, in Brooklyn, NY. The card is expected to be headlined by the lightweight title bout between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Max Holloway. Hopefully everything stays according to plan.