Khabib Nurmagomedov knew he might be in trouble in the wee hours of March 3, when his body began revolting during his weight cut. Just hours before he was to take the scale in Las Vegas to make his UFC 209 fight with Tony Ferguson official, he found himself in the hospital, dealing with dehydration and liver pain.
In the aftermath, Nurmagomedov — who is already back in Russia recuperating from his lost weekend — has remained fairly quiet as to what exactly happened, although he did issue a statement on Sunday via his Instagram.
“Whoever you are or whatever you do, you’ll get only what God prescribed for you,” he wrote. “AlhamduliLlah for everything God gifted me for my 28 years, I got much more than I asked. I know that many people was waiting for this fight and I fail them. Want to bring my apologies for all my fans, UFC and my opponent Tony. My health is fine now, thanks God. These tough testing only makes me stronger.
“Thank everyone for the support.”
On Monday, his longtime manager and close friend Ali Abdel-Aziz appeared on The MMA Hour and detailed how it all went down.
“Normally we’re supposed to get back at 6 o’clock in the morning and cut weight, but at 3:45 in the morning I went to the room — and my room was right next to his room, and he was in so much pain,” Abdel-Aziz said. “And after that I panicked. Because this is not just somebody I manage, this is my little brother. I have a different relationship with all the guys I manage, because if I can’t be your friend or we can’t be like brothers, we can’t work together.”
After Nurmagomedov was forced to withdraw from the bout on a doctor’s recommendation, UFC president Dana White said during the FS1 UFC 209 weigh-in show that had his camp followed the proper protocol and called the UFC physicians, the fight may have been salvaged. Instead, as White put it, Nurmagomedov’s camp “went rogue” and took him to a “random hospital.”
As it was, given the small hour, Abdel-Aziz said he reacted more as a loved one wanting to get his friend urgent care.
“I panicked, and the first thing I wanted to do, I wanted to help him,” he said. “I wanted to bring some care to him. I thought about calling 911, but I thought, listen, we can pick him up. When we picked him up, the whole group, he couldn’t even walk. We put him in my car and drove straight to the hospital. On the way to the hospital I tried to get a hold of the UFC. It was 4 o’clock in the morning by the time I got to the car.
“Normally, for the last eight or nine years that I’ve worked with the UFC, if anything happens you call two people — the matchmaker, and Dana White — and I did both. But of course at 4 o’clock in the morning, I didn’t know who to call.”
Upon reflection, Abdel-Aziz said he completely sees White’s point of view on how he should have handled things, and chalked it up to a learning experience.
“I know Dana came out and said I should have called the UFC doctor, or called (UFC medical claims official) Briana [Mattison], but I never did this before,” he said. “And you know what? Dana is right. I wish I called Dr. Davidson, because we went to the Sunrise Hospital, and were there for almost seven hours. And they treated us so poorly. And now, I got a little offended when Dana was talking, but he’s right. If we called the UFC doctor — that I never had before, I didn’t know I was supposed to call him — we would have gotten probably treated like kings.”
Still, having seen Nurmagomedov through his painful episode and in the depleted state he was in, Abdel-Aziz isn’t sure the fight could have gone on.
“Listen, I don’t know if the fight can be saved or maybe can be saved if we went to a different hospital, but the first thing they wanted to do with Khabib, they want to stick him with some IVs,” he said. “Me and the doctor who’s fighting with Khabib to put an IV in him, he fought him for almost an hour-and-a-half, and finally the pain was so great, he just got an IV with some medication in it, and we all submitted. Now he probably went back to 165 or so, there’s no way this fight can happen.”
The Nurmagomedov-Ferguson bout for the lightweight interim title was in many people’s eyes the most intriguing fight on Saturday’s pay-per-view. The Dagestan fighter Nurmagomedov is 24-0, and has dominated opponents in the UFC. Ferguson has won nine straight fights, and had a pressure-based style that carried fascination going against a wrestler like Nurmagomedov.
It was a big blow to the card, and it became a nightmare weekend for Abdel-Aziz and company, having got so close to a title only to see the opportunity vanish. And there was the health scare, which overshadowed everything.
“It was one of the worst weeks of my career as a manager,” he said. “To see a friend go through this pain and suffering.”
Abdel-Aziz said that the UFC’s reaction to the situation was one of concern for Nurmagomedov. He said that matchmaker Sean Shelby called to check on his health, and that other UFC officials were more concerned about his fighter’s well being than what it meant for the PPV.
Asked what medically happened to Nurmagomedov specifically, Abdel-Aziz — who admitted Nurmagomedov had shown barely concerning flu-like symptoms days before the episode — said that his liver just “wasn’t functioning.”
“Two days before the fight he had a little flu, but he took his vitamin C, and he was feeling alright,” he said. “It was something very minor, and he didn’t even need to go to a doctor. Vitamin C, rest and sleeping. When you cut weight your immune system goes down. The weight cut, I’m telling you, it was the same as every time, and every time he makes weight. The last time he fought Michael Johnson, he makes weight. But I think this time, something different. The pain was coming from his liver, but I think the dehydration for sure, and I think it was part of the process.”
Once at the hospital, particularly one that the UFC doesn’t deal with, Abdel-Aziz said that physicians weren’t concerned about the event so much as treating the patient as quickly and efficiently as possible.
“When you go to a hospital, they don’t understand weight-cutting, UFC, they look at you and they think you’re dehydrated, and they stick you with needles,” he said. “And they’re going to say in the report you were dehydrated. But, I think sometimes your body is going to tell you no.
“I’m sure we’ll find a better way to start maybe the process earlier, maybe two months out, not six weeks out for cutting weight. Or just not being as heavy, but he always walk around at a certain weight and always makes weight. I don’t think it was the weight issue, it was that his body didn’t react right to the weight cut.”
As for when he expects Nurmagomedov to come back — if he might be ready to fight in April when the UFC visits Buffalo, New York — Abdel-Aziz said it’s complicated. But if it were up to him maybe Nurmagomedov could come back for UFC 211, which takes place in Dallas in May.
“At the end of the day, Buffalo is not realistic,” he said. “I haven’t talked to Khabib yet about any fighting. May might be an option, but you know, Khabib is not going to fight at Ramadan, and Ramadan is going to start May 26.
“So maybe May, maybe, but I don’t know if Khabib will be ready, because at the end of the day his health and well-being are worth a lot to me than making money. Money comes in last.”
Ramadan lasts until June 25.