Khabib Nurmagomedov is a rare case in mixed martial arts as a fighter who retired on top of the world yet he rarely escapes questions about coming back to compete again.
Following a dominant win over Justin Gaethje in 2020 to move to 29-0 in his career, the now 34-year-old Russian announced that he was hanging up his gloves for good after making a promise to his mother that he would stop fighting following the death of his father Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov just a few months earlier.
Now two years removed from action, Nurmagomedov has transitioned into coaching where he works with fighters like Islam Makhachev, who headlines UFC 280, as well as family members such as Usman and Umar Nurmagomedov. While he’ll likely still face questions about a return to action, Nurmagomedov’s longtime head coach Javier Mendez promises those days are now behind him.
“No [he’s not fighting again], he’s looked at it,” Mendez said on The MMA Hour. “He’s looked at when the fighters come out and get introduced by Bruce Buffer and he says ‘I love this thing’ but he’s very much settled as a coach and making sure that all his brothers — they’re not brothers but to him they’re brothers — that they all get the best opportunity to win a title.
“A lot of them are going to win titles. You’ll see. There’s going to be a lot of people from Abdulmanap’s gym that will win titles.”
As he puts fighting further and further in his rearview mirror, Nurmagomedov has now been overwhelmingly praised for the work he’s doing as a coach.
Mendez admits he’s had some influence on Nurmagomedov due to their relationship that dates back nearly a decade but truthfully it’s his father who served as the biggest inspiration on the coach that the former UFC lightweight champion has become since retiring.
“As a coach, I would say he compares more to his father than he does me,” Mendez said. “He’s more his father’s student than he is mine. He has added some of my things that I’ve instilled in him but it’s more like 85 percent father, 15 percent me. That’s how great an influence his father had on him. A great influence.
“I would say I added about 15 percent. He definitely has me in him, too, but you can’t deny his father. He is definitely his father’s son.”
It’s nearly impossible to quantify what exactly makes Nurmagomedov such an effective coach but Mendes believes that also ties back to the relationship he shared with his father as both a son and a student over the year.
“The same thing for his father, he cares. He really cares,” Mendez said about Nurmagomedov. “He thinks about his fighters. He does everything that’s right for them. If they’re late, or there’s something, he’s out there giving them a talking. He takes care of them financially if he needs to. Whatever he needs to do, he does for them to make them excel. If they’re going off the track, he puts them back on track. Just like his father did.
“Everything his father used to do, he’s doing, too and like I said, I just added about 15 percent to how he coaches but mostly it’s his father.”
Thanks to his own fight career, Nurmagomedov could never put his full focus on coaching but he was still omnipresent for the athletes closest to him even as he was concentrating on his preparation.
Now Nurmagomedov has become a full-time coach when many believing it’s only a matter of time before he starts producing a stable of champions and it might just start with Makhachev at UFC 280.
“[Coaching] is something he has been doing since probably 2013 or 2014 when he was coming down with Islam and Abubakar [Nurmagomedov] and Zubaira [Tukhugov] and Umar [Nurmagomedov] and Usman [Nurmagomedov],” Mendez said. “What he would do even when he was fighting for his title fights, he’d be done sparring and he’d wait around to watch those guys spar and coach them with me and the other coaches while they’re sparring.
“That’s the kind of love he has for the game and that’s the kind of love he has for his brothers.”