UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov returned home to Dagestan on Tuesday and spoke to reporters for the first time since leaving the octagon at UFC 254.
Following his successful defense of the belt against Justin Gaethje (22-3 MMA, 5-3 UFC) at Flash Forum at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, Nurmagomedov (29-0 MMA, 13-0 UFC) announced his retirement from MMA competition in a highly emotional interview with UFC commentator Jon Anik.
Nurmagomedov, who was fighting for the first time since the death of his father over the summer, revealed that he promised his mother that he would not continue with his career now that Abdulmanap is no longer there to be his head coach, mentor and best friend. “The Eagle” then left the cage, and did not make any post-UFC 254 media appearances.
After taking a few days and traveling home, Nurmagomedov spoke with a handful of reporters and detailed his decision. By all appearances, he’s at peace with it.
“Of course (UFC president) Dana (White) wants me to continue fighting and generate revenue,” Nurmagomedov said (via RT Sport). “I can make money myself. I’m at the peak of my career and can fight for very large purses but I made this decision and I think this is the best time. Not everyone can retire at their peak, but I know that in a year, two or five (years) I’d have to face that decision again. I did enough in the sport to be considered the best. Today, I was ranked as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter, so the mission is accomplished. What else is there to do? Make money? I’ll always be able to do that.”
With the feeling that he’s completed all his fighting goals, Nurmagomedov said he can exit the sport with his head held high. He did not discuss his plans for the belt as far as officially vacating it, nor did he make any statements about what he would like to see UFC do with the title next.
Nurmagomedov did release a partial vision for the future of the 155-pound title, though, and it centers around his teammate Islam Makhachev.
“Life goes on and our MMA academy is still running,” Nurmagomedov said. “Islam Makhachev got a fight on Nov. 14 in Las Vegas against a former lightweight champion (Rafael dos Anjos). It’s a major event or our team. Like my father said, when I leave there’ll be another champion. There won’t be another guy like me, it’ll be hard to repeat what I did. We are planning for Islam to win his fight and fight again before Ramadan to become a contender for the belt. Then next year in September or October, he’ll be here with his belt.”
According to everyone around him, Nurmagomedov’s decision to retire when he did it something he kept to himself. The plan was agreed upon with his mother before he accepted the matchup with Gaethje at UFC 254, but Nurmagomedov said even she was thrown off by the timing of his announcement.
“Well the emotions ran high,” Nurmagomedov said. “She knew but I don’t think she expected me to announce it right after the fight. I did promise her that this would be my last fight so she was aware.”