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UFC 223: Khabib Nurmagomedov never expected to face new opponent Max Holloway

Khabib Nurmagomedov, of Russia, speaks with the media

Khabib Nurmagomedov, of Russia, speaks with the media during a news conference for UFC 209, Thursday, March 2, 2017, in Las Vegas. Credit: AP / John Locher

Khabib Nurmagomedov has many of mixed martial arts’ biggest names on his radar for future fights.

Max Holloway never entered his mind.

But following a sudden knee injury to interim lightweight champ Tony Ferguson less than a week ahead of UFC 223, Nurmagomedov now is scheduled to face Holloway, the UFC’s 145-pound champ, with the 155-pound belt on the line Saturday at Barclays Center.

“To be honest, I think about now I’m going to fight with Tony, after fight maybe with Georges St-Pierre, maybe with Conor McGregor,” Nurmagomedov said Monday. “I never think about Max. But you never know, this is crazy game.”

Nurmagomedov said he arrived in town Saturday with no indication Ferguson was pulling out of the bout, which now has been scheduled and canceled four times in recent years because of injuries to both fighters. When he learned Sunday the fight wouldn’t happen, Nurmagomedov was disappointed, but optimistic it could happen soon enough.

“I still upset because we have to fight,” said the unbeaten Russian. “Four years, the UFC tried to make this fight and we didn’t fight. He injured, I injured. But I still want this fight. I want him to come back and recover fast and we’re going to fight, I hope this year or next year. Even though Dana said it’s never happen, it’s OK, let’s go.”

Now, “The Eagle” turns his attention to Hawaii’s Holloway. The UFC’s featherweight king was scheduled to defend his title against Frankie Edgar last month, but withdrew from the bout after a leg injury.

Even in the crazy world of MMA, taking a title fight in a higher weight class without a training camp is unheard of. While he admires Holloway’s heart, the Russian questions whether it’s such a bright idea.

“To be honest, if you ask me, I’d never take this,” Nurmagomedov said. “Six days before fight, you’re not ready. You come after injury, you’re not ready for five-round fight, fighting with someone who’s going to pressure you all the time with very good wrestling, grappling, top control and is undefeated for whole life.”

Nurmagomedov said he’s begun watching film of Holloway and is impressed with the Hawaiian’s boxing and movement, but doesn’t plan on allowing him any space to work.

“It’s not going to be a stand-up fight. I’m not going to give him chance. Stand-up is his game, why would I give him chance? Of course, fight beginning stand-up, but first of all, he has to fight with me and stop my takedown. I’m going to do what I do all my life, but he cannot do what he do all the time, it’s going to be different.”

New York Sports