In one of the most memorable scenes in mixed martial arts history, UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov retired following his UFC 254 title defense against Justin Gaethje on Saturday in Abu Dhabi.
After defeating Gaethje via second-round technical submission at the 1:34 mark, the stoic Russian broke down weeping in the middle of the octagon. Nurmagomedov lost his father and longtime coach, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, to complications from COVID-19 in June.
Nurmagomedov laid down the gloves in the middle of the cage and dedicated his career to his father. He retired with a career record of 29-0, an almost unfathomable tally in modern MMA, and 13 consecutive UFC wins, three shy of former middleweight champ Anderson Silva’s record.
“Today I want to say it was my last fight,” Nurmagomedov said. “No way I’m gonna come here without my father.
“It was first time after what happened with my father. When UFC called me with Justin, I talked with my mother three days. She don’t (want me) to go fight without father, but I promised her it’s gonna be my last fight. And if I give my word, I have to follow this.”
Colorado’s Gaethje (22-3) put in a game effort. He appeared to be making headway with a mix of low kicks and looping punches. But he inevitably succumbed like the rest of Nurmagomedov’s foes, as the champ executed a takedown and quickly turned it into the winning guillotine choke.
Gaethje went unconscious rather than tap out and had a four-fight win streak snapped.
In the evening’s co-feature bout, former UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker (23-5) of Sydney, Australia, announced he’s still a force to be reckoned with by fending off the trendy challenger of the month in Phoenix’s Jared Cannonier (13-5).
Cannonier landed repeated leg kicks, but Whittaker waded through them and used a ferocious jab to slow him down. A head kick nearly finished him in the third. Cannonier survived, but Whittaker took the decision on across the board scores of 29-28. It was Whittaker’s second straight win and 11th in his past 12.
–Field Level Media (@FieldLevelMedia)