Why UFC lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov doesn't expect to ever face Tony Ferguson

For years, Khabib Nurmagomedov looked at Tony Ferguson as perhaps his greatest challenge in the UFC's lightweight division. Those days, however, have come to an end.

Nurmagomedov (28-0) will defend his 155-pound championship against Justin Gaethje (22-2) at UFC 254 on Oct. 24 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. He was scheduled to face Ferguson (25-4) in April in Brooklyn, in a fight the UFC has tried to book five times in the past five years. Nurmagomedov was pulled from the bout due to travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Gaethje beat Ferguson in May.

The matchup between Nurmagomedov and Ferguson has become the most cursed fight in UFC history. In an exclusive interview with ESPN, Nurmagomedov admitted he believes the possibility of a fight is over.

"Nobody can be the same for a long time -- one day, somebody gonna beat you, something gonna happen, God doesn't give nobody the power, reaction, mental, one level, always,'" Nurmagomedov said. "One day you're going to go down and his day come. It was May. Tony Ferguson is finished now. He's gonna come back, and someone gonna beat him again, I believe. Because when you take damage like this, you'll never going to be the same. Never. Even if you're Tony Ferguson."

Ferguson, 36, has not fought since he lost to Gaethje via TKO in the fifth round. He has continued to talk about a potential fight against Nurmagomedov in interviews and on social media, and UFC president Dana White recently told Sports Illustrated he'd be willing to book the matchup a sixth time if it made sense.

Nurmagomedov encouraged Ferguson to fight his teammate Islam Makhachev (18-1) next week at UFC 254. Makhachev was supposed to fight Rafael dos Anjos, but dos Anjos pulled out after testing positive for COVID-19. Makhachev's manager Ali Abdelaziz, who also represents Nurmagomedov, has offered Ferguson $100,000 to take the fight, and another $100,000 if he wins.

"Right now, [Ferguson] have choice," Nurmagomedov said. "He can come to Fight Island and fight Islam. Islam have six-fight win streak, he is almost in the Top 10. Why not? Why he don't want to take this fight? UFC is going to give him good money. Ali is going to give him $100,000 and $100,000. After this, maybe he can fight for the title if he win. But I think his time is finished."