KHABIB NURMAGOMEDOV has surprisingly named fierce rival Conor McGregor among the current best UFC lightweights.
And the recently-retired star has backed his hated foe to win his old title should he beat Dustin Poirier next month.
The two were embroiled in a fierce rivalry way before they fought at UFC 229 in 2018 – the promotion's highest selling pay-per-view.
After Nurmagomedov submitted the Irishman a huge post-fight brawl fuelled demand for a rematch.
Their war of words continued over the following two years, but a second fight has never materialised despite the bad blood.
Khabib's influential dad and trainer Abdulmanap died from Covid-19 aged 57 last summer – leading to the icon to announce his retirement after successfully defending the lightweight title against Justin Gaethje in October with a record of 29-0.
That decision left the belt vacant.
Meanwhile, McGregor has performed a retirement U-turn of his own as he prepares for his comeback showdown with Poirier.
And when asked who the top fighters were left in the division after walking away, the former lightweight king Khabib named the two of them in his top three.
He also believes the winner will take his place at the top.
Nurmagomedov, according to MMA Fighting, said: “Top three [lightweight] fighters right now? 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.”
No official announcement has been made on whether McGregor vs Poirier, who lost to Khabib in 2019, will be for the vacant title.
Meanwhile, UFC president Dana White recently revealed he is confident he can convince Khabib to make a comeback.
He said: “The truth is, he has not committed to anything.
“What he has committed to is meeting with me next month. He and I are going to sit down, we're going to meet next month.
“We're going to find out how persuasive I can be – I'll bet on me every time.”
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