UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov etched his name in stone in the annals of UFC history with his second-round submission of Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 on Saturday on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.
Moments after finishing Gaethje, Khabib then announced his retirement.
It was a masterful performance from a man that entered the fight with the heaviest of hearts.
Khabib walked into the Octagon at UFC 254 with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Undefeated at 28-0, his spotless record was on the line. His status as the UFC lightweight champion of the world was at stake. Him possibly surpassing Jon Jones as the top fighter in the world was a consideration.
Perhaps a heavier weight than any other, however, was Khabib’s father having passed away over the summer. Khabib’s father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, was his lifelong trainer and driving force. The fight with Gaethje was the first time that Khabib had fought since losing his father.
Gaethje earned his shot at Khabib by defeating Tony Ferguson for the interim lightweight title at UFC 249 back in May. That opportunity came about when Khabib, who had been slated to fight Ferguson, was unable to make it to the Octagon because of being on lockdown in Russia because of the global coronavirus pandemic. Gaethje entered the fight with Khabib on a four-fight winning streak.
The first round started slow with Gaethje frequently feinting a takedown. Partway through the round, Khabib started to employ his jab, which set up several combinations that stung Gaethje. Just as Khabib begin to really stick the jab, Gaethje landed a couple hard punches of his own that got the champ’s attention.
It took him until the final minute of the frame, but Khabib shot and landed a takedown, which nearly set up an armbar, but he ran out of time. It was a strong opening round by Khabib, who showed how good his hands are, despite Gaethje landing quite a few solid leg kicks.
Khabib knew what he was doing was working and he kept it up in round two. Instead of hanging back for Gaethje to make a mistake, Khabib pressed him with his jab and combinations.
He ate a hard left hand and several leg kicks from Gaethje, but Khabib kept pressing forward. He finally shot, quickly moved to Gaethje’s back, and dragged him to the canvas.
Moments later, Khabib had a triangle choke locked up and Gaethje tried to tap, but fell to sleep.
Overcome by the emotion of the moment, Khabib kneeled down in the middle of the Octagon and began sobbing. When he awoke, Gaethje kneeled by his side, hugging the man that had just made him unconscious, realizing the enormity of Khabib’s loss of his father.
“I know he made his father so proud,” Gaethje said after the fight.
Khabib Nurmagomedov announces his retirement
Khabib notched his 29th consecutive win as a professional fighter. And then he called it quits.
Citing his love for his father and a promise to his mother, Khabib retired as the undefeated UFC lightweight champion of the world.
“Today I want to say, this was my last fight. No way I can come here without my father,” said Khabib. “I promised (my mother) this would be my last fight.”
The only thing he asked for? That he be elevated to the No. 1 ranking in the Pound for Pound fighter list.
“You guys have to put me on No. 1 pound for pound fighter in the world because I deserve it.
“Today is my last fight here in UFC.”
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UFC 254: Khabib vs. Gaethje results
UFC 254 Main Card (2 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV)
- Khabib Nurmagomedov def. Justin Gaethje by technical submission (triangle choke) at 1:34, R2
- Robert Whittaker def. Jared Cannonier by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Alexander Volkov def. Walt Harris by TKO (kick and punches) at 1:15, R2
- Phil Hawes def. Jacob Malkoun by KO (punches) at 0:18, R1
- Lauren Murphy def. Liliya Shakirova by submission (rear-naked choke) at 3:31, R2
- Magomed Ankalaev def. Ion Cutelaba by KO (punches) at 4:19, R1
UFC 254 Preliminary Card (11 a.m. ET on ESPN+)
- Tai Tuivasa def. Stefan Struve by KO (punches) at 4:59, R1
- Casey Kenney def. Nathaniel Wood by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
- Shavkat Rakhmonov def. Alex Oliveira by submission (guillotine choke) at 4:40, R1
- Da Un Jung vs. Sam Alvey split draw (29-28, 28-29, 28-28)
- Miranda Maverick def. Liana Jojua by TKO (doctor’s stoppage) at 5:00, R1
- Joel Alvarez def. Alexander Yakovlev by submission (armbar) at 3:00, R1
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