Khabib entered the cage with the weight of the world on his shoulders and he left it a champion with an undisputed legacy.
On October 24th, Khabib Nurmagomedov produced a historic performance in a second round submission against Justin Gaethje at the UFC 254 on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.
A lot was on the line for him when he entered the cage: his status as the reigning UFC lightweight champion of the world, his spotless 28-0 record, surpassing Jon Jones as the top fighter was in talk as well. The heaviest weight of them all was the sudden loss of his father and mentor for years- Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov. It happened during the summer when the surge of COVID-19 was at its peak. The fight against Gaethje was the first fight for Khabib after the loss.
Justin Gaethje, a 31 year old mixed martial artist earned his spot to fight Khabib when he defeated Tony Ferguson for the interim lightweight title at UFC 249 back in May. Khabib was supposed to be in the octagon against Ferguson but couldn’t make it due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Gaethje entered the ring against Khabib with a four-fight winning streak. During the first round, Gaethje was feinting a takedown, yet halfway through the round, Khabib started to force his jab on to Gaethje which led to a series of combinations that hurt him. Yet, Gaethje didn’t let Khabib’s jabs go unanswered and made his presence in the cage known. Throughout the rounds Khabib didn’t just wait for his opponent to make the mistake, he pressed on with his jabs and combinations. Finally, he took the opportunity to shoot and grabbed Gaethje by the back and dragged him down towards the canvas. Khabib had a triangular choke locked up that rendered Gaethje unconscious.
Khabib was overcome with emotions after his historic win. Even Gaethje, after he woke up, came up to hug him and congratulated him for his win, understanding the powerful emotions Khabib was going through after winning his first (and last) fight without his father by his side.
After 29 fights as a professional fighter, Khabib announced that this was his last fight. He said that he just couldn’t continue without his father and that he promised his mother that he won’t fight anymore. In his winning speech he said:
If you have parents, keep them close. I have one parent left, my mother, and I would like to spend more time with her.
He only asked for one thing: for the UFC to make him #1 for pound to pound fighter in the world, saying that he deserves it. After everything he’s done for the UFC, it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t.