Three days before U.F.C. 254, its headlining star Khabib Nurmagomedov told reporters that he planned to retire as the undefeated, undisputed U.F.C. lightweight champion.
He didn’t say when exactly he planned to make that move.
Apparently, he meant immediately.
Minutes after he dispatched Justin Gaethje to unify the U.F.C. lightweight title, Nurmagomedov, a 32-year-old wrestler from Dagestan, announced in a post-fight interview that Saturday’s bout was his last.
“No way I’m going to come here without my father,” he said in the octagon.
The title defense against Gaethje was Nurmagomedov’s first fight since the death in July of his father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, who had coached him since childhood, and who had suffered from complications after a bout with Covid-19.
Nurmagomedov said he talked with his mother, and the pair decided he should not continue his career without his father in charge of his training.
“I promised her it was going to be my last fight,” he said. “I have to follow this.”
Nurmagomedov retires with a perfect 29-0 record, and with several big-money fights pending. Earlier this year U.F.C. president Dana White teased a blockbuster rematch with Conor McGregor.
For his part, Nurmagomedov repeatedly dismissed a second McGregor fight, but said he would be interested in facing the retired U.F.C. welterweight legend Georges St-Pierre.
“Dustin (Poirier) and Conor (McGregor) are going to fight in January. I choked out both of them,” Nurmagomedov said. “I’m not interested.”