Dana White said he expects “one of the toughest human beings on the planet” Khabib Nurmagomedov to remain retired after the lightweight champion called time on his UFC career in Abu Dhabi early on Sunday.
The undefeated Dagestani, 32, made the shock announcement immediately following his successful title defence against Justin Gaethje in the headline bout at UFC 254 at Flash Forum. The victory, which brought to a close "Return to Fight Island", lifted his professional record to 29-0 (13-0 UFC).
Having secured the win via a triangle choke in the second round, Nurmagomedov fell to the canvas and sobbed uncontrollably, the win coming less than four months after his father died. He then confirmed the fight would be his last.
Speaking at the post-fight press conference, White said he believed Nurmagomedov would stay true to his decision to retire, while anointing him the UFC’s No 1 pound-for-pound fighter and potentially its greatest athlete of all time.
“What this guy’s been through – we’re all lucky that we got to see him fight tonight,” White said. “I’m hearing rumours of other things that I didn’t know about that you guys will hear when he comes out [to speak] later.
“Apparently he was in the hospital; he broke his foot… three weeks ago. So he has two broken toes and a bone that was broken in his foot. That’s what his corner told me. Walking around, never told anybody.
“He is one of the toughest human beings on the planet and he is the No 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Seriously, you have to start putting him up there in GOAT status.”
Of the retirement, White added: “When guys want to fight, they fight. When guys don’t want to fight, they don’t want to fight. Let him take some time off. Let him heal, not physically, but emotionally heal with what he’s going through from losing his father.”
White said he had actually anticipated a surprise victory for interim champion Gaethje, given Nurmagomedov’s demeanour in the build-up.
“I can tell it almost smelt like an upset tonight the way that he reacted at the weigh-ins, the way that he acted when he was walking out tonight,” White said. “He didn’t look like himself: breathing heavy and taking deep breaths. But wow.”
UFC 254: Khabib beats Gaethje in Abu Dhabi
UFC 254 represented the fifth and final event in the promotion’s second Fight Island series in Abu Dhabi.
Asked when the promotion would return to the capital, White said: “Late January, early February. I’ve a big meeting tomorrow. Go back home, do a bunch at home and then we should be ready to do some international fights, some title fights end of January, early February.”