Reigning UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov has cited the ravages of constant competition as a primary reason for his decision to step away from mixed martial arts with an unprecedented record of 29-0 last year.
In comments which may well come as a blow to UFC boss Dana White’s unceasing campaign to convince one of his most prized assets to return to the cage for one final fight, Nurmagomedov shed further light to Esquire Middle East on his reasoning for his surprise retirement, which he emotionally revealed moments after defeating Justin Gaethje by second-round submission at October’s UFC 229.
At the time, Khabib said that he was unwilling to continue with his combat career outside of the sphere of influence of his father and trainer, Abdulmanap, who passed away in a Moscow hospital in July after experiencing complications related to a Covid-19 diagnosis.
A tearful Nurmagomedov told the watching audience that his decision came after a discussion with his mother, who had said she was uncomfortable with the idea of Khabib continuing to fight after the family patriarch’s passing.
Since then, and despite numerous attempts by UFC brass to convince Khabib otherwise, he has stuck to his guns when it comes to ending his record-breaking career.
White, harnessing all the persuasive skills of a big-time promoter, couldn’t convince Khabib to return when the two met for crunch talks during the UFC’s latest residency on Abu Dhabi’s ‘Fight Island’ in January.
The businessman will try again soon in Las Vegas, too – but repeated comments from the undefeated champion seem to suggest that his decision wasn’t made in haste.
“Every day I woke up in the morning and started training, and in the evening my body was exhausted because I had brought it to the limit,” Khabib said of the toll that continued top-level competition can place upon an athlete.
“I just want to live a life in which I can get at least a little sleep before lunchtime, to live for myself and not devote myself 100 percent to sports.”
And what might that look like? Khabib has already said that he will be busying tending to the sheep and cows on his farm, adding that he would like to begin study towards a Master’s degree.
But that isn’t to say that Nurmagomedov will be forever absent from the sport. His cousin, Umar, recently made his own successful UFC debut, ensuring the family name will remain a part of UFC programming going forward.
He has also underscored the growing reputation of another of his training partners, Islam Makhachev, who Khabib sees as his true successor in the lightweight fold.
Nurmagomedov stopped short of confirming his full-time entry in coaching. “Now that I’m not going to train any more, I have people close to me – brothers and friends – who are now fighting at the highest level,” he said.
“There are about five or six people who we are building the path with and I will help them, train with them, share my experiences. To some extent, this can be called a coaching life, but I am not going to fully enter into coaching. I will always be there and share my experience.“
And that seems to be Nurmagomedov’s future. He will forever remain a dominant figure within the sport of mixed martial arts – and, as Georges St-Pierre has shown over much of the last decade, a fighter’s retirement doesn’t mean that they won’t be continually linked to comeback fights.
Khabib Nurmagomedov’s time as an MMA headline-grabber is far from over. But it doesn’t like like they will be the type of headlines White is lusting for.