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Khabib Nurmagomedov doesn’t like the word ‘interim’ attached to title fight

Khabib Nurmagomedov of Russia addresses the media during

Khabib Nurmagomedov of Russia addresses the media during UFC 205 media day at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 9, 2016. Credit: Getty Images / Michael Reaves

Conor McGregor is the biggest star in mixed martial arts.

At the moment, Khabib Nurmagomedov says he doesn’t care.

“When I come to UFC, I never think about Conor, ‘Oh, I want to fight him,’” Nurmagomedov said Friday. “I think about only belt.”

The unbeaten Russian was in Brooklyn for a Q&A with fans and media ahead of UFC 208 on Saturday at Barclays Center. Next month, Nurmagomedov will face Tony Ferguson for the interim lightweight title at UFC 209 in Las Vegas. The undisputed title belongs to McGregor, but with the superstar taking some time off with his first child expected in May, Nurmagomedov will have to wait.

“I think this is real high-level fight for the lightweight division,” said Nurmagomedov of facing Ferguson. “I don’t think this is fight for interim belt. Who wins this fight I think he becomes not interim champion but real champion.”

Nurmagomedov has a pretty strong claim to a lightweight title fight. He’s one of only a handful of UFC fighters with an unblemished record and he’s 8-0 since joining the promotion in 2012. Ferguson has just as strong a claim after a nine-fight win streak.

Last year, Nurmagomedov was in the running to face Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight title at UFC 205 but was passed over for McGregor’s first UFC fight at 155 pounds. Nurmagomedov fought Michael Johnson that night instead. Throughout his domination of Johnson, Nurmagomedov was screaming for a title shot to UFC president Dana White sitting cageside.

McGregor won the belt by beating Alvarez that night, but Nurmagomedov doesn’t believe McGregor ever will defend the lightweight title. He was critical of McGregor’s attempt at a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather, saying it was disrespectful to the UFC, which turned him into the star he is. Plus, McGregor never has defended any of the four titles he has won, two in the UFC and two with Cage Warriors.

While Nurmagomedov said he didn’t have any problem with White, he remained unhappy with how he’s been promoted. His Q&A was held in Brighton Beach, a neighborhood known for its Russian population, but Nurmagomedov was upset it wasn’t held during the typical time for these events, immediately before ceremonial weigh-ins, which took place at Kings Theatre in Flatbush.

“UFC promote him all the time because UFC is very big PR machine, but now I think UFC has to make plan,” Nurmagomedov said. “They have to promote me, make fight like me vs. him when I beat Tony Ferguson.”

When McGregor announced his hiatus, Nurmagomedov had a few other options on the table, but he says he wanted to fight the best available in the lightweight division, and Ferguson fit the bill.

“They try and make two fights, me vs. Jose [Aldo] and me vs. Michael Chiesa,” Nurmagomedov said. “I make this fight, not Tony Ferguson, not UFC. I make this fight.”

New York Sports