Sean O’Malley recently dismissed the idea that former UFC lightweight king Khabib Nurmagomedov retired from MMA to avoid fighting Charles Oliveira.
Nurmagomedov left the sport in 2020 after his third straight 155lb title defense. It took him just two rounds to take down Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 and put him to sleep with a triangle choke.
“The Eagle” has a professional mixed martial arts record of 29-0 that includes submission victories over the likes of former UFC champion Conor McGregor and former interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier.
Nurmagomedov is touted as one of the greatest fighters of all time, and he retired from active competition and was ranked as the organization’s top pound-for-pound fighter according to the promotion’s official rankings.
In The Eagle’s absence, a new lightweight king has emerged.
Oliveira won Nurmagomedov’s vacant belt in May 2021 when he defeated former Bellator Lightweight Champion Michael Chandler via TKO at UFC 262. He defended the strap in December by catching Poirier in a rear naked choke at UFC 269.
By May, “Do Bronx” was poised to tie Nurmagomedov’s title defense record. However, he missed the weight and lost his 155-pound harness. Still fighting Gaethje at UFC 274, it took him less than a round to submit “The Highlight.”
The belt remains vacant and Oliveira will likely look to reclaim his throne in his next fight.
In O’Malley’s eyes, Oliveira is still the reigning champion, despite losing to the Libra. And he believes there’s a chance Nurmagomedov didn’t want to be tested by the Brazilian. So he withdrew instead.
“That’s the one interesting fight that I would like to see if Khabib came back to the division,” O’Malley said in a recent interview with MMA Fighting. “That would be Karl. Everyone else, I think Khabib is some kind of mule. I think Charles is the only one who can really cause problems for Khabib and who knows, maybe that’s why Khabib resigned.
“Maybe he saw, ‘I don’t want this guy.’ Who knows but yeah that’s a fight I’d be interested in if Khabib comes back. It would be a mighty fight.”
Regardless of whether they fight, O’Malley sees Oliveira as the champion “and everyone knows it.”
“Charles is the champion and everyone knows it,” O’Malley continued. “That’s it. I don’t think anyone sees him as not the champion. I don’t think you can find a person who thinks he’s not the champion or wouldn’t call him the champion.
“I hope he got his pay-per-view money, I hope he earns the championship money that goes into the next fight. Everyone has to look at him as the champion, the fight he fought, the feats he put on. Charles Oliveira is the champion and everyone knows it.”