“I told Dana, ‘I have to give him this belt, because I didn’t lose the belt,’ because I know I am the champion until this day, before Islam became champion,” Nurmagomedov told ESPN.com after Makhachev’s impressive submission win in Saturday’s pay-per-view headliner in Abu Dhabi.
“They said, ‘No problem. Take it. This is yours. This is Dagestani belt.’ They gave it to me, I put it on.”
Nurmagomedov was just about the first person in the octagon after his longtime teammate’s win, which took place in the same arena where he competed in what was his final fight, a submission of Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 that extended his unbeaten streak to 19-0. The former lightweight champ could hardly contain his joy after Makhachev’s arm-triangle submission.
Afterward, Nurmagomedov declared his teammate not just the No. 1 lightweight in the division, but the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world. He then called in the consensus holder of that title, featherweight kingpin Alexander Volkanovski (the backup fighter for the UFC 280 main event) for an impromptu faceoff.
All the post-fight bravado concealed another truth for Nurmagomedov – he was “very nervous” seeing Makhachev take on Oliveira, the all-time submission record-holder.
“Because brother, I watch all his life, last 20 years, the way he works so hard, amateur career, professional career, and now he’s almost [there],” Nurmagomedov said. “This is a very hard sport. Any time anything can happen. Look at Kamaru Usman. He was winning all five rounds, boom, one time, finished - he loses belt. Same thing.
“Any time anything can happen. Charles is so good; he’s a high-level fighter, and of course, I was very nervous, because I love this guy. We grew up together. He was my father’s favorite student.”
Nurmagomedov’s father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, wasn’t able to see Saturday’s triumph after losing a battle with COVID-19 amid the pandemic. For the former lightweight champion, however, the thrill of watching his friend and student take gold was a career highlight.
Now, it’s on to the next one as Team Makhachev chases champ-champ status.
“This is very big history, our team and all MMA,” Khabib Nurmagomedov said. “We need locations, brother. ... Volkanovski clinch, [Islam is] going to hit a lot of kness, he’s going to take his whole energy, he’s going to take him down, and he’s going to choke him out.
“Volkanovski, we respect you, but we want to take your place, brother.”
You can watch Nurmagomedov’s full interview below.
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