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UFC Hall of Famer Khabib Nurmagomedov rules out return to cage: 'My time is finished'

Undefeated former champion focused on Eagle FC, wants to see Charles Oliveira vs. Islam Makhachev for UFC title.

MIAMI – It's been more than a year-and-a-half since Khabib Nurmagomedov (29-0 MMA, 13-0 UFC) last competed in an MMA fight, but with the UFC's lightweight division currently flourishing with impressive talent, "The Eagle" is often asked if he's intrigued about the idea of a return.

The answer remains an unequivocal "no."

"When I was just beginning my career, it was B.J. Penn's time," Nurmagomedov told MMA Underground. "After, it became Frankie Edgar. After, it became Benson Henderson, then Anthony Pettis, then (Rafael) dos Anjos, then Eddie Alvarez, then Conor (McGregor), and then it was my time. Now, my time is finished.

"You're not going to be in this game a long time. You know, a professional athlete's career is very short. You can be on top only like a few years – like four or five years, you know? And these years go very fast because all day what do you do when you're an athlete? You train, you eat, you sleep, and you repeat, and the day is finished."

MMA retirements are notoriously temporary. Take a look at Nurmagomedov's friend and fellow former UFC champ Henry Cejudo, who retired five months before "The Eagle" and is now currently in the process of booking his return to the cage.

Additionally, the demand for Nurmagomedov's services have remained high because he was one of the few athletes in all of combat sports who walked away while at the top of the game, a reigning UFC champion with an incredible undefeated career record of 29 wins without a single defeat.

Those calls for his return have become louder in recent times, with current top lightweight Charles Oliveira (33-8 MMA, 21-8 UFC) on an incredible 11-fight winning streak that includes 10 finishes and an impressive list of opponents like Justin Gaethje, Dustin Poirier, Michael Chandler, Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee, among others.

But Nurmagomedov instead prefers to give the spotlight to his longtime training partner, Islam Makhachev (22-1 MMA, 11-1 UFC), who currently sits at No. 4 in the UFC's official lightweight rankings.

Nurmagomedov believes Makhachev and Oliveira should be paired up for the next lightweight title shot – a belt that is currently vacant after Oliveira missed weight earlier this month at UFC 274. The Brazilian then submitted Gaethje in the opening round but was not allowed to leave the cage as champion due to his infraction from the previous day.

"Charles vs. Islam – this is the biggest fight in the UFC today," Nuramgomedov said.

Some have wondered aloud if that bout does come to fruition and Oliveira somehow proves victorious, would that maybe be enough to get Nurmagomedov, still just 33, to reconsider his stance, seeking to avenge the loss of his lifelong friend. Or perhaps just the growing discussion of Oliveira's stance among the all-time greats would be enough for Nurmagomedov to want to again prove his dominance.

He doesn't believe either scenario will prove likely.

"When it was my time, of course, I'm like, 'No way are people going to talk about other lightweights because I'm here now,'" Nurmagomedov said. "I'm finished. I leave this alone and just let these guys fight for the undisputed title. Islam vs. Charles, and that's it."

Instead, Nurmagomedov remains focused on his role at the helm of Eagle FC, which returns to action Friday for "Eagle FC 47: Dos Santos vs. De Castro," which streams live and free on the FLXcast app from FLXcast Arena. The event marks the company's third in the U.S. after previously hosting cards largely centered across Asia and Eastern Europe.

"I think this is the biggest fight card and the best fight card of Eagle's history," Nurmagomedov said. "This is my opinion. We have some great names, young guys. We have big names like Thiago Silva, Hector Lombard, Junior Dos Santos – legends of this game."

So it seems the idea of a Nurmagomedov return to competition is better left to the realm of fantasy discussion – at least for now. Time can always allow for a change of mindset, but right now, it doesn't seem Nurmagomedov is entertaining the idea at all, even if much of the MMA world seems intent on making it happen.

"I feel bad for these guys for this, too, because people still talk about myself when it's Islam and Charles' time," Nurmagomedov said. "I leave this alone, you know, but people have to leave me alone, too."

This story first published at SI.com/MMA.