Nurmagomedov announced his retirement in October following a second-round submission win over Justin Gaethje at UFC 254. With that victory, Nurmagomedov successfully defended his lightweight title for a third consecutive time and improved his pro record to a flawless 29-0. He cited the passing of his father and longtime coach Abdulmanap and a promise he made to his mother as motivating factors for his decision to hang up his gloves at the age of 32.
Since then, UFC President Dana White has said in multiple interviews that he does not believe Nurmagomedov is done competing. He has also met with Nurmagomedov in Abu Dhabi and Las Vegas, but there does not appear to be any change in Nurmagomedov’s status. Recently, though, the current lightweight champion met with former UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta and teased a return.
In an interview with ESPN, St-Pierre gave his take on why White and the UFC are reluctant to move on from “The Eagle.”
“From a business standpoint, for sure the UFC does not like one of their athletes to leave on their own terms, especially when they are champions,” St-Pierre said. “They like to keep the ball rolling in the organization and that’s one of the things they were angry at me [about], I’ve done this two times. But I think they attach too much importance into that. If you look at boxing, the way they promote the sport, it would be for example, ‘Mayweather vs. Canelo,’ and then after you know what they’re fighting for.
“But in UFC, the way they promote it is ‘UFC 259,’ that’s the UFC, they promote the UFC, then you have the two guys. So it’s just a different way they promote the sport. I think the promotion should be more centered on the athlete than the promotion because there’s all kinds of titles. The title is just a meaning. Even if you’re champion, doesn’t mean that people think that you are the best in the world if you are champion. You can be champion, but you haven’t fought the best guy. People are not stupid. People know that.”
St-Pierre famously walked away from the competition in November 2013 after narrowly winning a decision over Johny Hendricks to record his ninth straight successful defense of the UFC welterweight title. At the time, St-Pierre explained that he was simply burnt out and needed to take time to rest and recuperate. He relinquished his title and did not compete again for four years.
When he returned at UFC 217 in, it was as a middleweight, and he captured another UFC title by knocking off Michael Bisping. St-Pierre also relinquished that title shortly after, stating that a bout of ulcerative colitis (tied to his bulking up to 185 pounds) left him unable to defend. He formally announced his retirement in February 2019.
Despite having a good relationship with White, St-Pierre’s career choices have led to tension between the two in the past. They’ve even butted heads over who’s to blame for a potential superfight between St-Pierre and Nurmagomedov falling through.
St-Pierre understands the game the UFC is playing, and he likes how Nurmagomedov has responded.
“For that reason I believe they want to keep Khabib in because they feel like Khabib is undefeated,” St-Pierre said. “He has probably the most dominant career ever. I don’t even know if he lost a round—He might have lost a round but he dominate all his opponents.
“They don’t want him to leave on his terms, they want a guy to beat him, then after they gonna be like, ‘Okay, now you can leave.’ But Khabib is smart, I think he’s very smart, he left on top, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”