CONOR McGREGOR and Tony Ferguson are both “possibilities” for Khabib Nurmagomedov if he decides to fight on after UFC 252.
Nurmagomedov, 31, is set to unify his lightweight title against interim champion Justin Gaethje, also 31, in September.
But the unification was thrown into doubt after Khabib’s father and mentor Abdulmanap died, aged 57, after contracting Covid-19.
Despite the tragedy, UFC president Dana White and the fighter’s manager Ali Abdelaziz confirmed Nurmagomedov will still fight in September.
Even Javier Mendez, the unbeaten champion’s long-time trainer, admitted he was unsure of Khabib’s fighting future – but is confident he will at least honour his defence against Gaethje.
Mendez told SunSport: “According to Ali there will be a next fight, I don’t know whether there will be one after that, we’ll see.”
The American Kickboxing Academy coach backed Nurmagomedov to become an even greater fighter after the death of his dad, fulled with the inspiration to “preserve his legacy”.
If the Russian grappler is to fight on after his 29th bout, lightweight rival Tony Ferguson – who had FIVE fights against Khabib scrapped – could motivate him to snub retirement.
But Mendez urged Ferguson – who was beaten by Gaethje in May – to get back to winning ways before looking to settle the score once and for all with Nurmagomedov.
He said: “Tony would be a good reason to keep Khabib on track. In his heart I think Khabib wants to give Tony the opportunity.
“But I don’t think the UFC will give Tony the fight without going back and beating somebody first.”
After Nurmagomedov’s great rival McGregor, 32, won for the first time in three years by beating Donald Cerrone, 36, in January, all signs were pointing to a rematch between the pair.
But the Irish southpaw has since retired again, having grown frustrated in lockdown as he watched Gaethje leapfrog him in the title picture.
Despite his announcement, Mendez still holds out hope for a rematch between McGregor and Nurmagomedov, which could too force Khabib to stick around.
The trainer explained: “I see two possibilities, I see Conor vs Khabib and Tony vs Khabib after Gaethje.
“I don’t look at Conor’s retirement as legit, either.
“He says he doesn’t want to come back, but all Conor needs to do is pull the Floyd Mayweather and say, ‘I’m coming back, I want to fight this guy’.
“The thing is with Khabib, Conor wasn’t able to get what he wanted, he would have got Khabib at one point but he didn’t get it at the time he wanted.
“Conor can come out of retirement at any time, he’s still young. His last performance was exceptional so Conor is still in the mix very heavily.”