The Great Khabib Nurmagomedov Era Ends On A Sensational Note

The Great Khabib Nurmagomedov Era Ends On A Sensational Note

The Great Khabib Nurmagomedov Era Ends On A Sensational Note: MMA’s lightweight legend retires an undisputed, unbeaten champion on Saturday, after a memorable win over Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi, months after losing his father-trainer to Covid-19.

There’s a perverse enjoyment in watching Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fights from a completely different era. Watching a boxer face a submission specialist, understanding how it will finish in fast agony and a faster tap-out.

A fever dream of ‘what if’ stylistic fantasy matchups within the early 90s, MMA has now advanced into a sport with no one-trick ponies, solely masters of all trades. For the massive half, each fashionable fighter can throw palms and transfer his head, and is aware of sufficient wrestling to stuff a takedown. And all people and their canine has not less than a brown belt in jiu-jitsu.

That’s why Khabib Nurmagomedov, the wrestling virtuoso was particular.

On Saturday, after a win over Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi, he retired an unbeaten, undisputed champion. But perhaps his biggest achievement is bigger than the lightweight title or the unprecedented 29-0 record was that he became a major draw with his unparalleled wrestling, in an era where boos ring out the second a fight goes to the ground.

His wrestling and groundwork weren’t passive at all. The word ‘maul’ has been overused in Khabib’s context but there is no better descriptor. On the ground, he is constantly jostling for positions, transitioning from hold to hold, looking for openings to slide his arm under the chin of an opponent or isolate a limb. And if nothing worked, he’d sit up and start raining down punches. All this while audibly telling opponents to give up.

Stylistically, the all-out22-2 brawler Gaethje was Khabib’s biggest test. The hyper-violent American fights with high volume and pressure, hits hard and has a stellar collegiate wrestling record to boot. But against Khabib, there is no way to chain your strikes because you’re always worried about the takedown.

And in the first round, Khabib outstruck a conflicted Gaethje. Just when Gaethje found his range with a couple of punches, Khabib shot for a double leg takedown, secured it, flattened Gaethje against the cage and looked for an armbar before the round ran out.

The mat was the quagmire and Khabib a boa constrictor. He made the sport look special, and his opponents ordinary.

In the second round, a composed Gaethje troubled Khabib with heavy kicks on the inside and outside lead leg. The Russian pulled out the old get-out-of-jail-free-card, went for a takedown, used Gaethje’s momentum to get the mount, and put him to sleep with a triangle choke all in one flawless sequence.

That’s the other aspect of Nurmagomedov’s persona that captured the imagination of the West and made him a global superstar. For a long time, Khabib who grew up wrestling bears and swimming against the icy currents in the rugged mountainous Russian republic of Dagestan, fought elite training partners until they couldn’t continue, spoke broken English with a thick accent, and wore the papakha, a traditional sheepskin headgearwas an exotic, almost-caricaturish figure to the largely American UFC audience.

Since his win over McGregor, Khabib has also allegedly been used as a tool of geopolitical diplomacy by Kadyrov, who in 2017 launched what Human Rights Watch called an “anti-gay purge.” In his defence, Kadyrov told HBO: “We don’t have any gays. To purify our blood, if there are any here, take them.”

For now, Khabib retires as the GOAT. There have been others with more title defences, more fights with tougher opponents. But there are no Ls in Khabib’s record, no asterisks of failed drug tests. Khabib was never knocked down, let alone knocked out. And never has anybody looked as dominant in the cage, or undeniably unique out of it.

Retirements are arbitrary in combat sports. Khabib’s nemesis McGregor has retired three times in four years. Khabib had also been angling for a super fight against retired hall-of-famer and Canadian phenom Georges St-Pierre. GSP announced his retirement in 2013 after defending the welterweight belt nine times. But an itch to compete brought him back in 2017, when he won the middleweight belt before vacating and retired again.

Maybe a similar itch would bring Khabib back. But if it doesn’t, Khabib calls time on his MMA career as a proud, unbeaten, albeit conflicting, champion.

This is how The Great Khabib Nurmagomedov era ends on a sensational note.

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