Khabib Nurmagomedov choked out Justin Gaethje in the second round Saturday at Fight Island in Abu Dhabi and then promptly announced his retirement after UFC 254.
Nurmagomedov, who is the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world in the Yahoo Sports rankings, was brilliant throughout. He stood toe-to-toe with Gaethje, a powerful striker, in the first round and did it with ease.
Then, fighting in memory of his late father, Abdulmanap, he took Gaethje down early in the second and choked him unconscious with a triangle choke. Gaethje appeared to tap twice but referee Jason Herzog did not see them. When Gaethje went out, Nurmagomedov released the triangle and went to the center of the cage where he got on all fours and began to cry.
He was alone at the center, all eyes upon him, for several moments before Gaethje came over to comfort and congratulate him. Nurmagomedov couldn’t control his emotions after the fight as he thought of his father, who was his coach and mentor and started him in MMA.
At 29-0 and 13-0 in the UFC, there have been few ever like Nurmagomedov. He cut his gloves off and dropped them in the center of the Octagon, symbolizing the end of his career.
“Mother does not want me to do this without Father,” Nurmagomedov said.
Several times in his brief interview with Jon Anik, he said, “This is my last fight.”
He was as brilliant as usual in his performance. He landed several big right hands in the first, and then took Gaethje down late in the first round. He quickly rolled into mount but time ran out before he could get a submission locked in.
But Nurmagomedov had shown Gaethje what he was in for, as he put on relentless pressure and forced Gaethje to expend a tremendous amount of energy to avoid his takedowns. It also took Gaethje’s striking away from him to a large degree.
Gaethje, who won the interim title in May by stopping Tony Ferguson, was filled with praise for his rival.
“I know he’s in a bad spot, but he did what he had to do and made his father so proud,” Gaethje said.
Nurmagomedov leaves the sport as not only the best active fighter in the world but he’s made a strong case for himself as the best of all time.
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