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Khabib wants McGregor stripped of title as Dana White hits out at 'Conor haters'

The UFC president is hoping his lightweight champion returns to the octagon no later than next summer.

Khabib Nurmagomedov UFC lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov. Source: Chris Young

IT’S BEEN A frustrating year so far for Khabib Nurmagomedov, but tomorrow night he’ll have an opportunity to end 2017 on a high.

Having not fought since November 2016, the undefeated lightweight is scheduled to make his return against Edson Barboza in Las Vegas.

The women’s featherweight title bout between champion Cris ‘Cyborg’ Justino and Holly Holm is UFC 219′s main attraction, but the clash-of-styles match-up between Nurmagomedov, a powerful wrestler, and Barboza, an explosive kickboxer, is arguably the most intriguing bout on the bill at the T-Mobile Arena.

A victory for Nurmagomedov would put him back into title contention in the 155-pound division, but if and when the champion actually puts that belt up for grabs is still unclear.

Like Nurmagomedov, UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor hasn’t fought in mixed martial arts since UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden — over 13 months ago — where he defeated Eddie Alvarez to claim the strap.

Boxing: Mayweather vs McGregor-World Tour UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor with president Dana White. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

With the exception of a 10th-round TKO loss to Floyd Mayweather in his professional boxing debut in August, McGregor has been inactive throughout 2017. Calls for the Dubliner to subsequently be stripped of the belt are growing louder, just as he was late in 2016 when the UFC relieved him of the featherweight title he won 11 months earlier by defeating Jose Aldo.

Nurmagomedov dashed his own chances of being the man to welcome McGregor back to the octagon earlier this year. The 29-year-old Dagestani fighter, who has a track record of pull-outs due to injury problems, was forced to withdraw from a clash with Tony Ferguson in March when he fell ill as a result of his weight cut 48 hours before the fight.

In Conor McGregor’s self-imposed absence, the UFC had put an interim lightweight title on the line in a bid to appease the contenders. Instead, Ferguson and Kevin Lee fought for the interim strap in October, with Ferguson emerging victorious via third-round submission.

But this weekend Nurmagomedov can revive his hopes of imminently challenging for the lightweight title. He looked in impressive shape this evening as he made weight for tomorrow’s clash with Barboza. And ‘The Eagle’ believes the UFC should no longer be satisfied to play the waiting game when it comes to the uncertainty surrounding McGregor’s future.

He told MMAjunkie: “I think they have to take the belt from Conor and make him humble. And that’s it – everything gets finished. Next fight, next year, in March or April, I’m going to fight for the title. This is the plan.”

But Dana White disagrees. In an interview with ESPN, the UFC president said he’s hoping to see McGregor back in the octagon no later than next summer. He also insisted that his return will be a title defence against Tony Ferguson.

When asked about the possibility of McGregor being stripped of his title, White responded: “For people to suggest that, you’re just a Conor hater. Because if you look at how everything played out, Conor has fought everybody.

“When he won the 155-pound belt, he dropped the 145-pound belt, which we made him do. He tried not to do it, but he contractually had to let go of the 145-pound belt. He became the 155-pound champion, and his next fight was against Floyd Mayweather. He has to defend the title now.”

In 2018, Nurmagomedov (24-0) wants the title shot he’s been working towards since debuting for the UFC six years ago. There are still hurdles to overcome. The next one is Edson Barboza (19-4) who — on the back of consecutive wins over Beneil Dariush, Gilbert Melendez and former champion Antony Pettis — shouldn’t be overlooked.

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Paul Dollery

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