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Khabib Nurmagomedov never contemplated return from retirement, says he has nothing to prove

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Khabib Nurmagomedov
Khabib Nurmagomedov
Esther Lin/MMAFIGHTING

When Khabib Nurmagomedov announced his retirement from MMA this past October, the entire combat sports world was shocked by his decision.

At the time, he was just seconds removed from a submission win over Justin Gaethje, which stood as his third consecutive title defense at lightweight while advancing his overall record to 29-0 as a professional. Afterward, he finally ascended to the top of the UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings for the first time, and that was more than enough for the undefeated Russian to know his career was fulfilled.

Still, UFC President Dana White was adamant about trying to convince Nurmagomedov to return for at least one more fight, and he was constantly teasing clandestine meetings that might result in a comeback. It turns out despite White’s best attempts, Nurmagomedov never really considered booking another fight, but he finally convinced his now former boss of his decision after sitting down at dinner together earlier this week.

“No [I never contemplated coming back], but Dana called this official,” Nurmagomedov said with a laugh when speaking during the UFC Vegas 22 post-fight show. “But I retired like five, six months ago. It’s very funny. Dana told me when he posted this, he said someone write me comment about, ‘He retired not today, he retired like five months ago.’ It’s funny a little bit, but we have some conversations with Dana a couple of times. Like two days ago, we meet with him, sit, talk like two real men. We have a very good conversation with him, good dinner.

“I really appreciated him. Everything what he did, not only for me, but for all this sport. Because UFC’s a big platform. A lot of people around the world because of UFC make money and give food for his kids, for clothes. They’re doing a great job. That’s why I want to say thank you to all UFC team. [Former UFC co-owner] Lorenzo [Fertitta], Dana, everyone who signed me, [former UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva, like everybody, [UFC matchmaker] Sean Shelby. These guys are doing a great job. Because of these people, a lot of people have money, they have food for their family. Thank you guys.”

A huge part of Nurmagomedov’s decision to call it a career was a promise he made to his mother after his father Abdulmanap’s tragic death following complications from contracting COVID-19. He told his mother that he would retire after just one more fight, which was ultimately the win over Gaethje at UFC 254.

“It’s very hard when you have power, when you’re the best in the world, when you’re famous, when you have money and say [no] to everything, like these things. This is very hard,” Nurmagomedov said. “People maybe never going to understand me but I really hope they’re going to support my decision.

“Because everybody has their views. My views and my relationship with my mother, like I feel I have to stop because I feel like in every fight, in every training camp, everything, this is some age from my mother. It’s like what do I have to do?”

Beyond the promise he made to his mother, Nurmagomedov doesn’t really see what else he could accomplish after already cementing himself as one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport.

Add to that, so few athletes leave combat sports on top and Nurmagomedov actually has that opportunity after retiring as lightweight champion and the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC.

“I come to this sport to show who I am, to become the best. I am a world champion. I am pound-for-pound No. 1. I defended my title three times. I won biggest fight in UFC history. What else?” Nurmagomedov said. “Only money. Only money fights but I don’t need money fights. It’s like everything what we did with my father since I was a kid. Like when I began training on mats, in my village, inside the house. When father put me wrestling with a bear, when I told him ‘hey, this bear tried to bite me’ and I remember when told me ‘bite him back, no problem, you have to wrestle, you have to keep going.’ Since when I was a kid, how we grew up with each other, how father take care of me and everything.

“Then I become world champion combat sambo. I become two-time world champion combat sambo. Then I have 16-0 [record] outside the UFC. Then the UFC signs me and I have a 13 [fight] win streak, become a world champion, everything. I’m very happy about all my journey. Right now, I feel I don’t have nothing to prove, to show people who I am. I do everything in this sport. I feel I don’t need to do nothing. Two days ago, when I talk with Dana, I tell him everything that I feel and he said he’s going to support me anyways. I’m very happy about this.”

When it comes to the legacy Nurmagomedov leaves behind, he says it’s not his place to determine how he’s remembered. The 32-year-old Russian can only stand by his incredible body of work, which includes his undefeated record, his reign as champion with only losing two total rounds out of 13 fights in the UFC.

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Nurmagomedov responded when asked what his legacy will be in the sport. “This is a people decision. When I was fighting, my decision, my job was smash my opponents and I did this perfectly. Nobody was close. I defended my title three times. I don’t know. This is people’s decision.”

As far as what’s next, Nurmagomedov promises he will still be involved with MMA and the UFC, but his fighting days are now behind him.

“I have some business projects,” Nurmagomedov said. “I’m going to make money. I’m going to enjoy my life. I have kids. I have my brothers, they’re still fighting in the UFC. I’m going to support them.

“I’m going to be around guys. I’m not going to let you guys miss me. Inside the cage, I don’t feel I have to go inside the cage and do something. I fight 29 times. I think it’s enough.”