UFC president Dana White is refusing to throw in the towel on Khabib Nurmagomedov's retirement, even though the undefeated champion continues to state he'll never fight again.
Speaking to ESPN on Thursday, White said he has a meeting scheduled with Nurmagomedov at the end of the month in Las Vegas. Regardless of how that meeting goes, it does not seem as though the company is on the verge of moving on without him.
White intends to book several non-title lightweight bouts in the coming months, most likely including a trilogy between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier, and he still believes Nurmagomedov will ultimately return to face the last man standing.
"I saw some talk that Dustin should be the champion. Well, Dustin just got smoked by Khabib," White said, referring to Nurmagomedov's submission victory in 2019. "Conor got smoked by Khabib. [Justin] Gaethje got smoked by Khabib. They're gonna have to fight it out. [The Nos. 1-7-ranked lightweights] will fight this thing out; we'll find out who the champ is. It's the best way. Nobody can deny, when Khabib does step away, who the best is in the division because they will have all fought.
"And [Nurmagomedov] can say whatever he wants. Khabib can say whatever he wants. I believe if this thing plays out, and the right guy, however the fights happen, he'll fight him. I truly believe that."
Nurmagomedov (29-0) announced his sudden retirement from MMA following a successful title defense against Gaethje in October. The Dagestani said he could not compete anymore in the absence of his father, who died last summer due to a heart condition worsened by COVID-19. White and Nurmagomedov met in person last month in Abu Dhabi, and although Nurmagomedov remains champion, he has expressed no desire to fight again.
McGregor, who suffered a second-round knockout loss to Poirier at UFC 257 last month in Abu Dhabi, is apparently dead set on a third meeting with Poirier. McGregor knocked out Poirier the first time they fought in 2014. White did not confirm that bout is set, but said it will almost surely be McGregor's next bout. He did add, however, it will definitely not be for the UFC championship.
"When you have two guys, Dustin is ranked No. 1 in the world and Conor, if they want [the trilogy] that badly, you do it," White said.
Despite Nurmagomedov giving every indication he will not return, regardless of how the UFC's non-title bouts go in the coming months, White is not ready to concede just yet.
"Khabib's not meeting with me for no reason," White said. "He'd say, 'What's the point of meeting? Love ya. Thank you, but we don't need to meet.' And he hasn't said that, has he?"