UFC 254: Khabib coach thought retirement was on cards after father’s death

Just a matter of months ago, Khabib Nurmagomedov’s future in mixed martial arts was well and truly up in the air. In July, the reigning UFC lightweight champion suffered an immeasurable family bereavement – one which reverberated throughout the combat sports world.

On July 3, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov – the Russian’s father and legendary coach – passed away from complications stemming from COVID-19.

The renowned Dagestani coach – who was responsible for the explosion of mixed martial artists emerging from the region and Russia in general – was just 58.

Nurmagomedov shared an immeasurable bond with his late father, who was revered by all those who had ever been in his presence.

So it wasn’t a surprise to anyone when there were rumblings that ‘The Eagle’ was considering calling time on his career after his father’s passing.

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When it did [cross my mind], I said, ‘I don’t see him doing it because the legacy hasn’t been completed yet,’

Javier Mendez on the prospect of Khabib Nurmagomedov retiring after the death of his father

And the prospect of Russia’s first UFC champion bringing the curtain down on his career also crossed the mind of his new head coach, Javier Mendez.

“It did cross my mind,” Mendez told Express Sport ahead of Nurmagomedov’s lightweight title unification fight with Justin Gaethje on Saturday night.

Those thoughts, however, were short-lived.

“When it did [cross my mind], I said, ‘I don’t see him doing it because the legacy hasn’t been completed yet,'” Mendez said. “And to honour your father, you need to complete the legacy. It hasn’t been completed yet.

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“He hasn’t completed what his father wanted him to do before he retires.

“For that reason, when I thought that he might be done, I said, ‘No way. He’s too mentally strong and he wants to fulfil his father’s legacy.’ So he’s going to continue.”

Abdulmanap’s plans for his son were, of course, for him to stretch his unbeaten run to 30-0 and close out his career with a legacy fight against the consensus greatest mixed martial artist of all time, Georges St-Pierre.

And should Nurmagomedov walk away from the sport after besting the former two-division champion, Mendez believes Nurmagomedov will have fulfilled his late father’s dreams and forever etched his name in the combat sports annals.

“I don’t know exactly what his him and his father talked about, the American Kickboxing Academy coach said. “But I’m assuming 30-0 and 31-0 and with a legacy fight being against GSP. If they can get that one, I think that would cinch what his father would want.”

UFC 254: Khabib vs Gaethje card fight card

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Justin Gaethje – (lightweight title unification bout)

Robert Whittaker vs Jared Cannonier – (middleweight bout)

Alexander Volkov vs Walt Harris – (heavyweight bout)

Jacob Malkoun vs Phil Hawes – (middleweight bout)

Lauren Murphy vs Liliya Shakirova – (women’s flyweight bout)

Magomed Ankalaev vs Ion Cuțelaba – (light-heavyweight bout)

Prelims

Stefan Struve vs Tai Tuivasa – (heavyweight bout)

Alex Oliveira vs Shavkat Rakhmonov – (welterweight bout)

Da Un Jung vs Sam Alvey – (light-heavyweight bout)

Nathaniel Wood vs Casey Kenney – (catchweight bout – 140lb)

Liana Jojua vs Miranda Maverick – women’s flyweight bout)

Joel Alvarez vs Alexander Yakovlev – lightweight bout

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