If Khabib Nurmagomedov sits out until November, as his manager said he intends to do after the Nevada State Athletic Commission suspended two of his teammates for a year last month, he will return minus his UFC lightweight champion title despite never having lost inside the octagon.
"Guys can't sit out and wait that long when you have the title," promotion president Dana White said Saturday during the UFC 234 postfight news conference. "You can't do it. So if that's true, and he's going to do that, then we'd have to figure out something else and you start looking at whether it's Conor McGregor-Tony Ferguson or one of these other guys."
Nurmagomedov was fined $500,000 and suspended for nine months, retroactive to October, for leaving the Octagon and starting a brawl after his victory over McGregor at UFC 229. The NSAC offered to reduce his suspension to six months if he would agree to help create an anti-bullying public-service announcement, but the Dagestani told Russian media that he refuses to do so.
"Generally, the state of Nevada is where drugs, prostitution and gambling are officially permitted," Nurmagomedov said, in translation. "Let them work on themselves."
Nurmagomedov's manager, Ali Abdelaziz, took the fighter's protest a step further, saying the 155-pound champ will not return until his teammates Zubaira Tukhugov and Abubakar Nurmagomedov, who were suspended for one year for their roles in the brawl, are also eligible to fight.
White did not specify whether Nurmagomedov would be stripped of his belt or if the UFC would create an interim title. As recently as last year, the UFC allowed an uninjured McGregor to hold the lightweight championship for nearly 17 months without defending it before he was stripped in April.