Khabib Nurmagomedov’s coach Javier Mendez has said it’s possible the UFC star could reverse his decision to retire from the octagon after making an “emotional decision” after his win over Justin Gaethje at UFC 254.
In his first fight since his father and coach Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov died, the Russian fighter submitted Gaethje at Fight Island in Abu Dhabi on Saturday and subsequently announced his decision to retire during his post-fight interview in the Octagon.
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Khabib has since asserted that the decision is final – citing a vow he gave to his mother – although Mendez, his longtime American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) coach, has now suggested otherwise.
“Look at his emotions, he was in tears, he was all over the place,” Mendez told The Sun. “I had no idea, he never said anything to me, so I was just like everyone else. But hey, you know what, I understood the father burden was too much.
“You saw how much he let out, and I went up to him and told him, ‘I love you, cry and just let it out.’
“Khabib, he was extremely emotional and what he does with that, I don’t know.
“I know he said what he said, but he was extremely emotional and time will tell if it will stick or not.
“Honestly, I don’t know and I’m not going to talk to him about it either, not my job. My job is to love him and coach him when he wants to fight.”
Abdulmanap died aged 57 in July as a result of complications brought on by a Covid-19 infection.
Khabib – whom it was later revealed fought despite breaking a bone in his foot just three weeks prior to the fight – submitted Gaethje via a triangle choke in the second round on Saturday to take his record to 29-0 in MMA, and take home a £4.6 million ($6 million) purse, not including performance bonuses or his share of the pay-per-view earnings.
The win also marked the 32-year-old’s third successful defense of his lightweight title, having previously done so against Conor McGregor in 2018 and Dustin Poirier last year.
After securing his win, the Dagestan native said to the surprise of Mendez: “Today, this was my last fight. Ain’t no way I’m going to come here without my father.
“When UFC called me about Justin I spoke with my mother for three days.
“She don’t [want me] to go fight without father, but I promised her it’s going to be my last fight. And if I give my word, I have to follow this.”
Nurmagomedov and his father had in the past hinted he could retire upon reaching 30-0, possibly having faced UFC legend Georges St-Pierre in a mouthwatering final matchup.
Mendez suggested Nurmagomedov may still fight again in the Octagon if his mother gives him her blessing, meaning he does not have to go back on his word, but said he will respect his decision either way.
“If his mother sees that he can continue and that Khabib did actually want to continue then she may say ‘Go and fulfil your father’s legacy and go 30-0.’
“I don’t know, but when I was present he’d always say, ‘Why do you guys talk about retirement, I’m only 32.’
“So how is it that all of a sudden you’re retired? What else can explain why? His emotions.
“He was very emotional, to me if he does retire, like I said it doesn’t matter we’re still there for him, but if he doesn’t, I’m there as his coach too.
“If he’s retired, I’m not going to say, ‘Are you sure?’
“I’m not going to say anything, but it was an emotional decision by far and I can’t tell you if he’s done or not – what I can tell you was it was an emotional decision.”
Given his age, ‘The Eagle’ could still have plenty of gas left in the tank and there don’t appear to be many potential opponents who could pose a serious threat to his perfect record.
A showdown with former two-weight champion ‘GSP’ – even if he has fought just once since 2013 – would be an exciting and fitting end to his career in the Octagon, while a rematch with McGregor would undoubtedly be a lucrative venture.
If Nurmagomedov sticks to his guns and this is the end, then he has gone out on top as the UFC’s No. 1-ranked pound-for-pound male fighter.