Khabib Nurmagomedov has informed Conor McGregor he will be fighting for the lightweight belt as he faces Dustin Poirier at UFC 257 in January.
Khabib retired from mixed martial arts in October after an emphatic victory over Justin Gaethje, with a 100 per cent professional record from his 29 bouts.
The Russian fighter hung up his gloves as champion, having defended the lightweight championship against Irish superstar McGregor in 2018 and American Poirier in 2019.
Khabib is still recognised as the UFC’s lightweight champion but suggested the belt is no longer his and will be up for grabs as Poirier duels McGregor, in a rematch of the 2014 bout won by the latter.
“Top three [lightweight] fighters right now?” Nurmagomedov told Match TV, via RT.
“Poirier, McGregor and [Islam] Makhachev. He is not in the top five yet, but those are the best fighters.
“My belt will be taken by the winner of Dustin and Conor.”
McGregor’s last fight at lightweight was his submission defeat to Khabib, while his last victory in the division was an emphatic TKO victory over Eddie Alvarez to clinch the belt in 2016.
A rematch between McGregor and Khabib has long been mooted but the Dagestan native claims his decision to retire was final.
“I talked with my mother for three days. She didn’t want me to go fight without my father,” said Khabib after defeating Gaethje.
“I promised her, ‘It’s going to be my last fight,’ and if I give my word, I have to follow this. It was my last fight here.”
Nonetheless, Khabib is well aware UFC president Dana White will attempt to prise him back to the Octagon.
He added: “I don’t blame them and their desire is understandable. They persuade, I will not hide, but this is not surprising.
“They offer conditions and fighters, but it’s hard to surprise fighters. I finished half of the top 10 ahead of schedule.
“And so yes, I repeat: there are conditions and offers. In a couple of weeks, Dana and I will discuss all the points.”