Conor McGregor could still earn a rematch with Khabib Nurmagomedov – if he wins the UFC's lightweight tournament.
McGregor's hopes of a reunion with his bitter rival appeared to take a fatal blow when he was KO'd by Dustin Poirier last month.
But despite his defeat – and the expectation that Nurmagomedov will shortly vacate his title – McGregor has been offered a route back.
UFC president Dana White has confirmed he is ready to grant McGregor a third fight with Poirier but without the title being on the line.
He intends to match the top seven ranked lightweights in the world until two 'finalists' emerge who would then clash for the belt.
"What's fun for us, being fans, is if you look at the No.1 ranked guy in the world – Dustin Poirier – down to No.7 Rafael dos Anjos, the fights that can be made to fight out who can be the next champ are unbelievable," White told ESPN.
"We're going to have some incredible fights to find out which two of these guys from one to seven will square off to become the next world champion.
"These guys are all going to fight it out and we'll narrow it down to the top two guys."
Nurmagomedov announced his retirement following his victory over Justin Gaethje last October.
But he has neither vacated nor been stripped of the belt and remains in place as the champion.
The Dagestani has repeatedly said he does not want to hold up the division, however, and plans further talks with White in Las Vegas this month.
And White can see a time when Nurmagomedov returns from retirement to face McGregor for a second time.
"He hates Conor McGregor so bad, the hate that these two have is as real as anything you've ever seen and I believe that if Conor came out of this thing and Conor was going to be the guy to win the title, I truly believe that he'd face Conor," he added.
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