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Coach reveals Khabib Nurmagomedov nearly fought in UFC again: ‘He came close’

Javier Mendez describes how Khabib Nurmagomedov nearly returned to action after retiring in 2020, only to leave after Conor McGregor lost to Dustin Poirier.

Former Russian MMA fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov press conference in Moscow Photo by Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Khabib Nurmagomedov’s former head coach Javier Mendez is giving some surprising new information regarding Khabib’s retirement ... and near-return to the sport.

Nurmagomedov retired from active competition after beating Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 in Oct. 2020. According to Mendez — who runs the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) where Khabib and many other top Dagestani fighters train — “The Eagle” was open to coming back.

Right up until Conor McGregor dropped the ball for a big money rematch, losing to Dustin Poirier at UFC 257 in Jan. 2021.

“Dana White didn’t remove Khabib from the testing pool after he retired because he still hoped Khabib would fight again,” Mendez told Grosvenor Sports (via The Sun). “But then Khabib had enough of being tested, so he told Dana he didn’t want to test anymore and that he’s not coming back. He was roughly tested for about eight months before he had enough.

“UFC were trying to get him to come back and he came close,” Mendez continued. “You saw it when we were in Abu Dhabi. He said, ‘If someone shows me something spectacular then maybe I’ll come back.’ It was Conor [McGregor] vs. [Dustin] Poirier that night, but it did not get Khabib excited. He said if something excited him on that card then maybe he’d consider it.

“But, it never happened,” Mendez concluded. “UFC was pushing him, but nothing excited him, so it was no-go.”

It’s unclear whether anything would have excited the former UFC Lightweight champion. As time goes on, he seemingly becomes less and less interested in mixed martial arts (MMA). At the start of 2023, he announced a complete step back from nearly all participation in the sport to spend time with his family.

And true to his word, he’s been a rare sight since then.

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