But if Khabib Nurmagomedov really does come out of retirement and return to the UFC, who should he face in his first fight back?
There would be no shortage of UFC fighters wanting to take on The Eagle. But due to Khabib Nurmagomedov’s status as one of the UFC’s top drawing cards, the promotion will definitely be selective when it comes to a potential opponent.
With this in mind, here are five potential opponents for Khabib Nurmagomedov should he make a return to the UFC.
#1 Dustin Poirier
Perhaps the most deserving of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s potential opponents would be Dustin Poirier.
The Diamond famously fought Khabib Nurmagomedov in the main event of UFC 242 in September 2019, and admittedly, he was largely outclassed. Poirier took a beating en route to suffering a second-round submission loss.
However, Poirier has returned to action with a vengeance since. He dismantled Dan Hooker over five rounds last June and most recently knocked out Conor McGregor to pick up his UFC career's biggest win.
Would Poirier be favored to defeat Khabib Nurmagomedov in a rematch? Most likely not.
Poirier has looked brilliant since that fight, but it’s also fair to suggest that neither Hooker nor McGregor provide the same kind of takedown threat that Khabib does.
Still, The Diamond is quite rightly considered top of the tree in the UFC’s Lightweight division right now, so if Khabib were to return, it’d only be fair to have Poirier at the front of the queue to face him.
#2 Conor McGregor
The fight that the UFC would most like to make for Khabib Nurmagomedov would be a rematch with their biggest-ever drawing card, Conor McGregor.
Despite the event taking place nearly three years ago, nobody’s forgotten their first clash, which main evented UFC 229.
Khabib Nurmagomedov largely dominated The Notorious One, destroying him on the ground and even knocking him down on the feet en route to a fourth-round submission.
But the feud between the two continued post-fight with a wild brawl between the fighters and their cornermen.
And more to the point, UFC 229 drew a reported 2.4m pay-per-view buys, a UFC record by some way.
McGregor’s drawing power was clearly not damaged by the loss – he’s drawn over a million buys twice since. And so the UFC will probably not be concerned by his recent loss to Dustin Poirier either.
The one stumbling block to booking this rematch is that Khabib Nurmagomedov has stated on a couple of occasions that he isn’t that interested in fighting McGregor again.
And in reality, the result likely wouldn’t be in doubt either – another win for Khabib.
Still, this fight would undoubtedly be the biggest drawing card the UFC could pull right now. And with that in mind, it has to be expected that they’ll try to make it happen.
#3 Michael Chandler
Michael Chandler’s UFC debut couldn’t have gone much better for all parties concerned.
A big-money free-agent signing, Chandler arrived from Bellator MMA with plenty of question marks hanging over his talent level compared to the fighters in the UFC’s Lightweight division.
But Iron Mike proved he belonged by knocking out highly ranked contender Dan Hooker in the first round of their clash at UFC 257.
And after the fight, Chandler proved he’s got the charisma to back up his fighting skills by cutting an intense and entertaining promo, immediately making UFC fans desperate to see him again.
All of this adds up to Chandler being a brilliant potential opponent for Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Chandler would be a fresh challenger for Khabib as compared to the likes of Poirier and McGregor, who have already faced him before.
But more importantly, he’d provide a genuinely dangerous test for The Eagle, thanks to his high-level wrestling skills and brutal punching power on the feet.
Khabib Nurmagomedov would naturally be the favorite anyway, but this would still be a fantastic fight to make.
If the UFC is set on McGregor vs. Poirier III, then putting it on a mega-card with Khabib vs. Chandler would probably blow the UFC’s previous record pay-per-view buy-rate away.
#4 Charles Oliveira
Perhaps the best fight for Khabib Nurmagomedov from a sporting perspective would be one against Charles Oliveira.
Right now, Do Bronx may well be the most dangerous man in the UFC’s Lightweight division. He’s on an eight-fight win streak and is the owner of the most submission wins in UFC history with 14.
And most recently, Oliveira dominated the man who was always stated to be capable of giving Khabib Nurmagomedov his toughest fight – Tony Ferguson.
If he were to fight The Eagle, Oliveira could test him in a number of different ways.
Khabib Nurmagomedov has been able to outgrapple every opponent he’s faced in the UFC. But would even he risk taking Oliveira – who can wrap up an opponent in a submission in seconds – to the ground?
And on the feet, the Brazilian’s striking has improved dramatically to the point where he’s now more than capable of knocking out opponents with his hands.
Sure, this fight wouldn’t draw as heavily as a fight with Poirier or McGregor. However, the UFC could easily put it onto the same pay-per-view card as the trilogy fight between those two fighters – making for a genuine mega-event.
#5 Nate Diaz
One curveball that the UFC could throw when it comes to matching the returning Khabib Nurmagomedov with an intriguing opponent would be to match him against Nate Diaz.
Admittedly, there are plenty of reasons why this idea would be pretty ludicrous.
Firstly, Diaz has not fought at 155lbs since his 2015 win over Michael Johnson. Secondly, he hasn’t fought in the UFC in over a year since his defeat at the hands of Jorge Masvidal.
And thirdly, with one win to his name in the past four years, he simply doesn’t deserve a shot at Khabib.
But of course, that hasn’t stopped the UFC before when it comes to so-called “money fights.” And there’s no disputing that Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Nate Diaz would definitely be a money fight.
Diaz has been a proven drawing card for the UFC ever since his two fights with Conor McGregor in 2016.
And while a buy-rate was never revealed, the last event that Diaz headlined – UFC 244 – was said to be a smash hit on pay-per-view.
More to the point, Diaz has a ready-made feud with Khabib Nurmagomedov, dating back to a confrontation at a PFL event in 2015.
Diaz supposedly “slapped” Khabib then, and the two men were involved in another confrontation at UFC 239 in 2019.
While this fight might not make sense from a competitive standpoint, it’d definitely sell hugely, and it’d also be an intriguing clash. Therefore, it certainly wouldn’t be off-limits for the UFC.