Khabib Nurmagomedov: The Eagle soars away after thoroughly dominating Mixed Martial Arts

Nurmagomedov has not only paved the way for future Dagestani-Russian athletes in Mixed Martial Arts, but has also shown that a fighter with an uncompromising work ethic and a measured and respectful persona can make it to the top of the mountain in an age of showmanship.

Deven Kanal October 27, 2020 17:40:41 IST
Khabib Nurmagomedov: The Eagle soars away after thoroughly dominating Mixed Martial Arts

Khabib Nurmagomedov retires with a 29-0 record. File image

In the lead-up to what is now known as his final fight at UFC 254 against interim middleweight champion Justin 'The Highlight' Gaethje, several questions were asked about Nurmagomedov’s next fight.

In his typical stoic fashion, Nurmagomedov said he respected the opponent in front of him and would not want to look past him.

It is that very sense of respect in martial arts that Nurmagomedov has held dear which sets him apart from other fighters.

This is in large part due to his father and trainer-in-chief, the late Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, a no-nonsense taskmaster who trained his most famous student and son in the icy, wild mountains of Dagestan.

Abdulmanap made a nine-year-old Khabib grapple with a baby bear… literally, grapple and roll around in the snow.

The thing about mythmaking is that there is usually no evidence, but not this time. This video, which emerged online, quickly went viral.

It is this tough-as-nails upbringing that ensured that Nurmagomedov reached his goal: To go down in history as the undefeated, undisputed Mixed Martial Arts champion in his weight class.

What was and what wasn’t

Even though he ends with a tally of 29 wins and 0 losses, Khabib only hit mainstream popularity towards the second half of his 12-year Mixed Martial Arts career.

This was in large part due to his no-nonsense attitude, unwillingness to "sell" fights or "diss" opponents, a sharp contrast to the motormouth styles of Chael Sonnen, Conor McGregor, or Colby Covington.

Nurmagomedov is cut from a different cloth: Quietly going about his training, embraces the grind, and constantly fine-tuning his art.

The only time 'The Eagle' flew off the handle was against Conor Mcgregor, the most high-profile bout of his career.

This was a never-before, never-again outburst which came out of weeks and months of what could be called downright abuse of things he held closest… his family, his friends, and even his faith.

For a devout Muslim to be mockingly offered a glass of Irish Whiskey during a press conference, one could expect no less than absolute fury once the cage doors would be locked.

And that’s exactly what happened, not just after the opening bell, but even after the closing bell. All hell broke loose, security guards swarmed the octagon, punches flew inside and outside.

It was a bizarre and shameful chapter in an otherwise dignified journey.

Another story that seems destined to remain incomplete is that of Nurmagomedov and Tony 'The Boogeyman' Ferguson. To his credit, UFC president Dana White tried to make this match-up happen nearly half a dozen times but it seems that even the Fight Gods were hell-bent against letting Nurmagomedov and Ferguson square off.

The fight never materialised for several reasons, including a weight-cut gone wrong which resulted in Nurmagomedov being hospitalised.

Another time, the eccentric Ferguson, wearing sunglasses indoors for some reason (don’t ask), tripped over cabling wire during a pre-fight media commitment.

The last of the match-ups was cancelled earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic which left Nurmagomedov gnashing his teeth while stranded in Russia.

Unable to fly out for the fight, Nurmagomedov could only watch Ferguson square off against Justin Gaethje.

Gaethje, among the most entertaining and explosive fighters in the UFC, completely dismantled Ferguson, and with it, the hopes and dreams of millions of fight fans around the world.

The strange thing about Nurmagomedov’s winning streak is that each and every opponent knew exactly what he would do once the fight starts.

Put pressure, take you down to the mat, coil around you like a python and then rain down heavy punches or try to submit you depending on the position.

Think of it as an open-book examination where you have the question paper along with the answer book and yet you’re unable to fill the pages.

No amount of training camps, conditioning coaches, grappling partners, or footage analysis could help any opponent solve the puzzle that was Nurmagomedov.

In fact, in his entire UFC career, Nurmagomedov lost just two rounds on the judges’ scores.

But perhaps Nurmagomedov’s most intriguing match-up is one that never materialised: Aagainst George St Pierre, a world-class MMA fighter from a generation ago, who is already considered among the all-time greats.

While Nurmagomedov was still on the rise, Pierre was slowing down and taking fewer and fewer fights. Fans have long pondered what would have happened had Nurmagomedov and Pierre actually squared off in the Octagon.

Sadly, it seems that fight, along with other cross-generational match-ups, like Mike Tyson versus Muhammad Ali, will only occur on gaming consoles.

P4P king

A term often used in combat sports is ‘pound-for-pound’. This ranking system is often used to compare athletes across different weight classes.

In his last few interviews, Nurmagomedov was very clear that he was chasing the top pound-for-pound position in the UFC, a position currently occupied by ex-UFC light heavyweight champion Jon ‘Bones’ Jones.

With the victory in this final fight, White himself confirmed that Nurmagomedov has secured this mythical title.

Nurmagomedov has not only paved the way for future Dagestani-Russian athletes in Mixed Martial Arts, but has also shown that a fighter with an uncompromising work ethic and a measured and respectful persona can make it to the top of the mountain in an age of showmanship.

Many consider Nurmagomedov the Greatest of All Time. They have one hell of a case.

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