Khabib Nurmagomedov says he never considered going back on his decision to retire in October, despite UFC president Dana White’s best efforts.
The former lightweight champion, 32, called time on his unbeaten career immediately following his victory against Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi. However, White has since attempted to coax him back for one more bout to take his unblemished professional record to 30-0.
On Friday, though, the UFC confirmed Nurmagomedov was “officially” retired, with it soon after announced that Charles Oliveira will face Michael Chandler in May for the vacant lightweight belt.
Nurmagomedov was cage side during the latest UFC event in Las Vegas on Sunday morning, and spoke with ESPN afterwards to explain fully his reasons for stepping away, and his plans for the future.
The unbeaten Dagestani had promised his mother before UFC 254 that that clash would be his last following the death in July of his father and coach, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, because of complications resulting from contracting Covid-19.
Asked on Sunday whether he ever genuinely contemplated a return to the octagon, Nurmagomedov said: “Dana called this official, but I retired like four, six months ago. Dana told me when he posted that [news on Friday] someone commented saying, ‘Hey, he retired not today, he retired about five months ago,’ and I was like, 'It’s funny’.
“We had some conversations with Dana a couple of times and two days ago we met with him to talk like two real men. We had a very good conversation with them, good dinner, and I really appreciated him not only for me, but all the sport.”
For many, Nurmagomedov appeared to be at the peak of his powers last October - incredibly so given his recent personal trauma - with the second-round submission against No 1-ranked contender Gaethje closing out a second Fight Island series in Abu Dhabi. The victory, a third successful title defence, lifted Nurmagomedov to the top of the UFC’s pound-for-pound standings.
“It’s very hard when you have power, when you’re the best in the world, when you’re famous, have money and say to everything like this, ‘No,'” Nurmagomedov said. “It’s very hard. People maybe will never understand me, but I really hope they’re going to support my decision because everyone has their views.
“My view and my relationship with my mother ... I feel like I have to stop because I feel like in every fight, every training camp, this takes some age away from my mother. And what do I have to do?
“I came to this sport to show who I am and became the best: I’m world champion and pound-for-pound No 1. I defended my title three times. I defended my title in the biggest fight in UFC history [against Conor McGregor in 2018]. What else? Only money-fights, but I don’t need money.”
Khabib's best fights
Although his fighting career is now behind him, Nurmagomedov said he would still be involved with the UFC. He has a number of teammates with ambitions of following in his footsteps by becoming champions of the sport, including cousin Umar Nurmagomedov and stablemate Islam Makhachev, and has taken a more active role in coaching.
“I have some business projects; I’m going to make money. I’m going to enjoy my life with my wife ... I have kids,” Nurmagomedov said. “And I have my brothers - they’re still fighting in the UFC, so I’m going to support them.”
Asked about his legacy to the sport, he replied: “Honestly, I don’t know. This is the people’s decision. My job was to smash my opponents, and I did this perfectly. Nobody was close.”