After 16 months out of action recovering from two knee surgeries, top-ranked UFC lightweight contender Khabib Nurmagomedov is itching to get back into the octagon.

His last win came over current division champion Rafael dos Anjos at UFC on FOX 11 in April 2014, and ‘The Eagle’ now has no choice but to take it slow as he gets back to health in order to return before the end of the year. It’s unknown when his will be and against whom, but with dos Anjos set to face Donald Cerrone for the belt at December 19’s UFC on FOX 17, there aren’t many legitimate returns bouts left for the Russian wrestler.

That’s why he believes a bout with former champ Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis, whom dos Anjos took the belt from in dominant fashion at March’s UFC 185, is the best fight for him. Nurmagomedov recently met up with Pettis on a bus at a UFC function, and the two discussed facing one another. ‘The Eagle’ recently told Bleacher Report that he wants it to be in the UFC on FOX 17 co-main event:

“Pettis and I sat down together and I asked him when he was going to come back. He told me the end of the year. I told him I could come back in October or November, but if the UFC [says], ‘You come back in December and fight Anthony Pettis,’ I can wait. 

“I think everyone will agree with me that a fight between Pettis and I would be the biggest fight in the lightweight division right now. This fight would be bigger than Cowboy vs. RDA because RDA [smashed] him before. If the UFC put me and Pettis in the co-main event in Orlando in December, I believe that would be the real main event fight for the fans. I don’t know what the UFC plans to do, but this is what I think the fans want.”

A potentially blockbuster booking for sure, the somewhat stagnant lightweight division could get just the jolt it needs if the two biggest fights are scheduled back-to-back. Hailing from American Kickboxing Academy (AKA), Nurmagomedov knows that dos Anjos is an improved fighter since they last fought, but noted that he’s going to come back stronger as well:

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“I was in the best shape of my life for my last fight with RDA, but after that fight, I got hurt and had two surgeries in a row back-to-back. I haven’t fought in a year-and-a-half and have been in recovery. During that time, RDA kept going and he beat a lot of top guys.

“I think he’s a different fighter now and I think a rematch between us would be a tougher fight, but I believe in myself to get the victory. I believe in my wrestling and pressure. I believe I can beat anyone in this division. I’m young, I’m strong and now I have good experience.

“I smashed RDA, and he has smashed all the top guys in the division. I’m very exciting in combat. I’m going to be very exciting when I come back, and I’m going to come back stronger than before.”

He also had a highly publicized brawl with Twitter rival and on-again, off-again fighter Nate Diaz at World Series of Fighting (WSOF) 22 earlier this month, where both fighters’ team went at it in a video-recorded war in Las Vegas. The heated rivalry led to Nurmagomedov requesting a fight with the Stockton slugger in order to teach him some respect due to his lack of professionalism:

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“If the UFC gives me that fight, I’m happy to do it because I want to smash this guy,” Nurmagomedov said. “I want to take him down, smash his face with hard elbows and knock him out. I have to teach this guy respect.

“He started a fight with me at [WSOF] and there were a lot of women and children in the crowd. We are professional fighters and we are supposed to stay professional. I know sometimes you get emotional, but you have to stay professional.”

The smothering Sambo artist added that he knew how much damage he is able to do, but that it’s just not something that UFC fighters should unleash in public like Diaz did. Nurmagomedov deemed it too dangerous and took it on his shoulders to be the one to teach Diaz (another) lesson in the UFC if they should so choose:

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“I’m a professional fighter,” he added. “I’m a UFC fighter and I can kill someone in the street. I could do it easily if I had to, but we are supposed to be professional. The skills we know aren’t supposed to be used that way, and that’s why we have to always be professional because this is very dangerous. If the UFC gives me the chance to fight him inside the Octagon, I will do it because he needs to be taught a lesson.”