Khabib Nurmagomedov proved he’s still the most dominant champion in mixed martial arts on Saturday when he choked out Justin Gaethje in the second round of their lightweight title unification bout at UFC 254. Then, he stunned the world by announcing his retirement from the sport.

Khabib Nurmagomedov retirement
Khabib Nurmagomedov (left) announced his retirement after defeating Justin Gaethje (right) in the main event of UFC 254 on Saturday. (Image: Josh Hedges/Zuffa/Getty)

In a post-fight interview, Nurmagomedov said that he had made the final UFC appearance of his career.

Father’s Death, Promise to Mother Prompt Retirement

The decision comes after Nurmagomedov’s father and coach, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, died in July due to complications related to COVID-19. Nurmagomedov enjoyed an especially close relationship with his father, one he says made it difficult for him to prepare for his final bout.

“There’s no way I’m going to be back without my father,” Nurmagomedov said. “I spoke to my mother. She don’t know how I fight without father, but I promised it’s going to be my last fight, and if I give my word, I have to follow it.”

Nurmagomedov repeatedly said that he only remained interested in certain fights in recent months. He dismissed the idea of rematches with Conor McGregor or Dustin Poirier, both of whom he finished via submission. He’d floated the idea of potentially fighting the legendary Georges St-Pierre, and looked at Gaethje as a new challenge to overcome.

Nurmagomedov made one request of the UFC – more accurately, of the writers who vote on the company’s rankings – on his way out of the sport.

“I know only one thing I want from UFC,” he said. “You guys have to [rank me as the] No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world because I deserve this.”

Jon Jones (26-1) currently holds the top spot on the company’s pound-for-pound list. But it’s hard to argue with Nurmagomedov’s desire to see his name at number one, or his place among the all-time greats of the sport.

Nurmagomedov Joins Debate Over MMA GOAT

Nurmagomedov started his professional MMA career 16-0 in regional promotions in Russia and Ukraine before joining the UFC in 2012. He proceeded to demolish everyone in his path, eventually winning the UFC Lightweight Championship over Al Iaquinta at UFC 223 in April 2018.

Heading into Saturday, Nurmagomedov only lost one round on the judges’ scorecards in his UFC career: the third round of his victory over Conor McGregor, when he stood and traded with the Irishman for five minutes before winning via neck crank in the next round.

Two judges also gave Gaethje the first round of Saturday’s fight. But that never became a factor, as Nurmagomedov had little trouble submitting Gaethje in the second round to once again stand as the UFC’s undisputed lightweight champion.

After the fight, UFC president Dana White revealed that Nurmagomedov’s performance was all the more impressive, as the champion wasn’t close to 100%.

“Apparently, he was in the hospital and he broke his foot three weeks ago,” White told reporters. “So, he has two broken toes and a bone in his foot that’s broken. That’s what his corner told me.”

After Nurmagomedov retires, several fighters could vie for the UFC lightweight crown. Gaethje, Poirier, and McGregor all figure to be in the mix, as does Tony Ferguson. Michal Chandler, the longtime Bellator star who was on standby as a backup for the title fight if needed, is another likely contender.