Khabib Nurmagomedov is a man who seems to know what he wants.
He wants someone with initials. B.J. or T.J. – either one will do.
Nurmagomedov (20-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC) has mentioned his interest in a fight with former lightweight and welterweight champion B.J. Penn (16-9-2 MMA, 12-8-2 UFC) in the past, asking UFC President Dana White on Twitter in June for a chance to meet the man he’s been a fan of since he was a kid.
The Russian “Eagle” reiterated that hope in an interview with Thomas Gerbasi of UFC.com – and also called out recent No. 1 lightweight contender T.J. Grant (21-5 MMA, 8-3 UFC) at the same time.
“I have asked for a fight with B.J. Penn, but I have not received a response,” Nurmagomedov said. “Perhaps they have different plans for him. I wanted to fight someone I watched on TV when I was younger. He is a legend. If B.J. is not available, I would love to fight Grant. If he feels that he is the next title contender, let him prove it by beating me at UFC 165 in his homeland.”
Nurmagomedov is unbeaten in his pro career and in his first 18 months in the UFC has gone 4-0 with a pair of stoppages.
In his most recent outing, he set a UFC record by taking Abel Trujillo down 21 times in a unanimous decision win at UFC 160 in May. But for that fight, he came in heavy and had to fight at a catchweight, forfeiting a portion of his purse to Trujillo.
Asking for Penn or Grant could be wishful thinking for the 24-year-old, who has split training time between his native Russia, AMA Fight Club in New Jersey and American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif.
Penn hasn’t formally announced his retirement, but he hasn’t fought since a unanimous decision loss to Rory MacDonald in December. That was his first fight in more than a year after being similarly dominated by Nick Diaz at UFC 137.
Penn is approaching three years since his most recent win, a 21-second knockout of Matt Hughes at UFC 123. And White hasn’t been shy in saying he is in favor of the 34-year-old former champ calling it a career.
Grant is coming off an upset of Gray Maynard at UFC 160 that earned him a “Knockout of the Night” bonus – but more importantly, a title shot against lightweight champion Benson Henderson.
At 5-0 since dropping to 155 pounds from welterweight, Grant’s run included three stoppages and a pair of bonus awards. But just this past week, Grant had to pull out of his title shot at UFC 164 thanks to a concussion. Instead, Anthony Pettis meets Henderson for the first time since taking his WEC title at that promotion’s final event.
Thanks to the concussion, Grant may be slow to return – and if he already knew he wouldn’t be ready for UFC 164 in Milwaukee on Aug. 31, what are the odds he’d be ready to go three weeks later at UFC 165 on Sept. 21 – even if it is in his native Canada?
Grant has acknowledged that when he’s ready to return, he might have to take another fight to re-prove he’s the No. 1 lightweight contender, rather than sitting back to wait for the Henderson-Pettis winner. But whether or not he’d be willing to step up on Nurmagomedov’s request remains to be seen.
Either way, it appears clear that Nurmagomedov is hoping to move past the middle-tier lightweights like Kamal Shalorus, Gleison Tibau, Thiago Tavares and Trujillo and onto a bigger name in the hopes of getting a title shot of his own.
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(Pictured: Khabib Nurmagomedov)