KHABIB NURMAGOMEDOV has vowed to fight Michael Chandlder next – as long as the UFC new boy beats his training partner Islam Makhachev.
Russian Khabib defends his lightweight crown in a unification against interim champion Justin Gaethje next weekend.
Former Bellator champion Chandler – signed to the UFC as a free agent – is on Fight Island as a replacement for the title headliners.
But Nurmagomedov told the contender he will be next in line for the title should he beat his American Kickboxing Academy team-mate Makhachev.
Retired fighter Chael Sonnen revealed: “(Khabib) said, ‘Chael, I watch your videos, I need to tell you something. I want to make this very clear.
“He said, ‘There’s no one I’m closer to than Islam.’
"And he said, ‘I’m telling you right now, if Michael Chandler beats Islam, I will view Michael Chandler (as) the number one contender, and I want you to get the message out.’
"I said, ‘OK, Khabib, when I get the message out, I’m gonna say you called me, you told me this.’
"He goes, ‘That’s what I’m doing. Get that message out.’”
Makhachev was due to feature on Nurmagomedov's undercard in Abu Dhabi facing former champion Rafael dos Anjos.
But Brazilian Dos Anjos was withdrawn from the pay-per-view event after testing positive for coronavirus.
Ali Abdelaziz, Makhachev and Khabib's manager, challenged Chandler to fill in for the feature lightweight bout.
But UFC president Dana White shot down the idea.
He said: "Michael Chandler is here for the other fight, that's what he's here to do, that's what he's focussed on.
"If anything bad were to happen, he will fight Gaethje or Khabib. That's it, that's all that kid has to worry about.
"We'll get him a fight once this is over and we're working on a fight for Islam too."
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