Cristiano Ronaldo, Conor McGregor and Manny Pacquiao were among those to pay tribute to Khabib Nurmagomedov following his decision to retire from the UFC on Sunday in Abu Dhabi.
The lightweight champion, 32, made the shock announcement immediately after his second-round victory against Justin Gaethje in the headline bout at UFC 254 at Flash Forum. The win, secured via a triangle choke, ensured Nurmagomedov walked away from the sport unbeaten, with a professional mixed martial arts record of 29-0. It was his third title defence.
After defeating interim-champion Gaethje, a tearful Nurmagomedov said he had vowed to his mother to keep his word to retire. His father, and longtime coach, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, died in July from heart complications made worse by contracting Covid-19.
Ronaldo was one of the first to react to Nurmagomedov’s retirement, posting on Instagram: “Congrats bro, your father is proud!”
McGregor, whom Nurmagomedov defeated in their infamous bout in 2018 - the most lucrative fight in UFC history - took to Twitter to say: “Good performance @TeamKhabib. I will carry on. Respect and condolences on your father again also. To you and family. Yours sincerely, The McGregors.”
Former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, considered by many the UFC’s greatest of all time, said also on social media: "I want to congratulate Khabib for an outstanding career. I know he made his father along with millions of fans around the world incredibly proud today. May God continue to bless him on his journey."
Meanwhile, eight-division boxing champion Pacquiao posted on Twitter: “Congrats to the [greatest of all time] @TeamKhabib on a great win and a great career! It was a privilege to watch you compete. Respect!”
Many said the victory against Gaethje lifted Nurmagomedov to become the greatest athlete in UFC history, with Dana White, the promotion’s president tweeting later on Sunday: "Congrats @TeamKhabib you accomplished EVERYTHING you set out to do. You are the [pound-for-pound] best fighter in the world and you truly are the G.O.A.T of the sport."
UFC 254 brought down the curtain on "Return to Fight Island", the promotion's five-event residency in Abu Dhabi and its second series in all in the capital.