Recently retired UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov says that he appreciates the recognition after he pipped the likes of LeBron James and Katie Taylor to win the BBC’s annual World Sport Star award.

The undefeated Russian stepped away from mixed martial arts following an October submission win against American Justin Gaethje to increase his professional record to an unparalleled 29-0, just months after the death of his coach and father Abdulmanap who passed away in July after suffering complications from a Covid-19 diagnosis.

Immediately after the win, Nurmagomedov called time on his record-breaking career, saying: “It was my last fight. There’s no way I’m going to come here without my father.”

The win was Nurmagomedov’s third defense of the undisputed UFC lightweight championship and elevated him for the first time to the summit of the UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings – but even in retirement, the plaudits keep rolling in for him.

In addition to James and Taylor, Khabib was selected for the honor ahead of American golfer Dustin Johnson, pole-vaulter Armand Duplantis and footballer Wendie Renard and he becomes the first prizefighter to win the BBC award since Evander Holyfield did so in 1996. 

This award means a lot for me. Recognition is the one of the biggest motivation in the life, as in the sport.

Reacting to the awards, Khabib wrote on social media: “This award means a lot for me. Recognition is the one of the biggest motivation in the life, as in the sport.”

The Russian star is joined in the BBC World Sport Star list by previous winners such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Usain Bolt, Roger Federer, Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali. Australian athletics star Herb Elliott won the inaugural award in 1960. 

Khabib being selected as the winner, particularly by an institution such as the BBC, is another example of just how far the UFC and mixed martial arts has transitioned from niche, fringe sport it once was to the mainstream entity it is now – and as evidenced by this award, Khabib Nurmagomedov is as responsible for that as anyone.