Khabib Nurmagomedov may have a UFC lightweight title around his waist, but Kevin Lee refuses to acknowledge him as the true champion in the division.
The way Lee sees it, Nurmagomedov still hasn’t beaten anybody that would truly define him as the best in the world, although he respects Al Iaquinta stepping up and facing him on short notice a couple of weeks ago at UFC 223.
While Nurmagomedov is called undisputed champion, Lee looks at Tony Ferguson as the real top dog in the division whether he’s got a belt around his waist or not.
Lee is obviously very familiar with Ferguson after the battled it out last October to crown an interim champion. Of course, Lee is anxiously awaiting his chance to earn a rematch with Ferguson in the future, he can’t deny that his last opponent is the best fighter in the world at 155 pounds.
“100-percent. It’s undeniable. Even if they did take the belt away from him, the man’s the champ,” Lee said about Ferguson when speaking to MMAWeekly. “I give credit where credit is due. Right now, that’s where it is. I think especially after you see that fight cause Tony would give it to Khabib. I give credit where credit is due and I know who is the man to chase.
“Khabib, if I’ve got to go through him to get to Tony, yeah. We’ll see how the whole thing shakes out.”
Lee anticipates that the UFC will move to book Nurmagomedov against former lightweight champion Conor McGregor but he says even that won’t prove to him that anybody other than Ferguson deserves to be called champion in the division.
The only person Lee blames for the state of the lightweight division right now is himself after he fought Ferguson last year while dealing with a serious staph infection that ravaged his body in the days leading up to their fight.
Lee knows if he would have defeated Ferguson last October then he would have beaten Nurmagomedov and there would be no question who is the best lightweight in the world. As it stands now, Lee wants to get past Barboza on Saturday night and then he’ll turn his attention back towards the title.
“I think the man to beat is still Tony Ferguson. You’ve got to put him at No. 1,” Lee said. “They’re going to have Conor [McGregor] fight Khabib for an imaginary title and then Tony’s going to come back and I don’t know who he’s going to fight. It’s a lot of confusion being added right now.
“I take full responsibility for that not showing up healthy against Tony last October. That confused people even more. We’re going to see how things shake out.”