When Khabib Nurmagomedov announced his retirement in Oct. 2020 following his victory at UFC 254, he wasn’t kidding around. Despite countless attempts by UFC president Dana White and the promotion’s brass to convince him to change his mind, Nurmagomedov has remained true to his word and committed to enjoying his life away from the cage.
But is there any scenario that could relight the competitive fire for the former UFC lightweight champion?
Let’s say current UFC titleholder Charles Oliveira went on a run of dominance that rivaled Nurmagomedov’s own, beating multiple challengers like Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethje, and Nurmagomedov’s protege Islam Makhachev to cement himself as one of the most accomplished lightweights in UFC history — what would Nurmagomedov say then? Would the allure of defending his legacy and exacting revenge on the man who defeated his friend and training partner be enough to lure Nurmagomedov back into the octagon?
“I’d say, ‘At that time, it was Khabib’s time. Now it’s Charles’ time.’ I’m going to say that,” Nurmagomedov told ESPN. “I’m not going to just jump to the media and say, ‘Oh, I’m going to come back and fight with this guy.’ This is not interesting for me. Even if Charles Oliveira beats Justin Gaethje, Islam, Dustin, everybody, this is his time. I’m going to be happy for him. I’m going to send congratulations to Charles, you’re doing a very good job.
“He has right now an eight [fight] win streak, he beat a lot of good guys. Most of them, he finished them. He’s good, he’s very impressive. I think when he was losing back in the days in UFC, I think it was not his prime mental time. A lot of fighters, they have different physical and mental [primes]. But right now I think Charles Oliveira is mentally and physically prime time.”
Nurmagomedov (29-0) is widely regarded as the greatest lightweight of all-time. The Dagestani sambo specialist won all 13 of his octagon appearances and defended his UFC lightweight title a record-tying three consecutive times before exiting the sport. He still holds the record for the longest lightweight title reign in UFC history at 1077 days.
Nurmagomedov’s father and longtime trainer, Abdulmanap, often spoke about wanting to see his son retire with a 30-0 record after beating both Tony Ferguson and Georges St-Pierre. However, following Abdulmanap’s death last year due to COVID-related complications, Nurmagomedov’s goals shifted. At age 32, Nurmagomedov said he knows he probably has a few good years left in him to compete at a high level, but a 30-0 record is no longer a concern of his, nor is his standing on any sort of all-time list. While many fighters may have ambitions of being known as the No. 1 greatest fighter of all-time, Nurmagomedov is content just being known as one of the best of his era.
“After what happened, a lot of things changed,” Nurmagomedov said. “I don’t want to talk about everything — a lot of things changed, and for me it’s like, 30-0, 29-0, or 15-0, it’s nothing. I fight and I showed the world. And from nowhere, I came here and took all of everything. At that moment, I was the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter. This, nobody can say nothing. It was not Kamaru Usman, it was not Jon Jones, who fights very close fights with all these light heavyweights like Ovince Saint Preux, like Thiago (Santos), Anthony Smith, Dominick Reyes. These guys, [Jones] showed versus them very bad performances, and everything that happened with doping. But what about me? I was mauling everybody.
“And at that moment, the 24th of October, 2020, I was on the top. After that, whatever happened, I don’t care. I don’t want to push my name or call me the greatest of all-time. No, I am one of the greatest of all-time. I am on one level with Fedor (Emelianenko), Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, Daniel Cormier, Demetrious Johnson, Georges St-Pierre. I am on one level, I put my name on one level. And I don’t want to call this guy the greatest, he’s No. 2, he’s No. 3. [Just] one of the best.”