Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov is 5 & 0 in the UFC, 21 & 0 professionally, ranked number seven in the lightweight division and looking like a shoe-in for a title shot. However and before he’ll get that chance, the 25 year old Russian is going to have to win one, if not two more, fights.
Nurmagomedov was originally set to fight Gilbert Melendez on February 22nd at UFC 170 in Las Vegas, however, Melendez scratched from the fight a couple of weeks ago; particulars as to why were not stipulated too.
As it turns out now, fans are being told that the UFC’s president reached out to the division’s number five ranked fighter, Nate Diaz, and offered him the February bout with the Eagle, but that Diaz turned the match down. Posting to his Twitter account earlier today, Dana White made the fact known that Nate wasn’t interested in fighting the streaking Nurmagomedov; certainly not now.
As to why Nate would turn the fight down, it might be a good guess that this is Nate doing exactly what he said he was going to do post his “Ultimate Fighter” 18 win, which was to sit on the shelf and wait for the big fights. Carrying the argument forward, Nate probably doesn’t see Nurmagomedov as a big fight and not one that is going to get him either a title shot or put significant money in his pocket.
Of course, the irony of the situation is that it’s exactly what Nate said he wanted, which was to opportunistically wait on a scratch and then take the fight healthy. In this instance, Nate is basically getting the scenario he asked for, but probably not the fight or the fighter.
As to the correctness of his decision, only time will tell. If Nate had taken the fight and decisively beaten the Russian, or had won a unanimous or split decision over Khabib in an all-out war, then it would be hard to see how that wouldn’t have been beneficial to Nate's career. However, a loss would set him back and just as he’s starting to put wind back in his sails. As such, taking on a hot fighter that's ranked below him in the division and all too simply do the promotion a favor, might not be seen as the best career move. That said, if Nurmagomedov were ranked above Nate, number four or better, chances would be good that Diaz would have taken the fight.
Putting it all in the blender, fans will probably come to the conclusion that Diaz told White that he wants the winner of this month’s Ben Henderson / Josh Thomson fight and if not that, then he’s prepared to bide his time and wait on a scratch opportunity in a title match.