The tears that follow the fight, the perfection of the gestures. A kick from Justin Gaethje to the back of the knee of Khabib Nurmagomedov, who staggers, but counterattack by taking the American in the legs. The Russian does not let go of his prey, and everyone wonders less about the outcome than about the technique by which he will complete the confrontation, since one rarely emerges unscathed from a hold by the Russian. Khabib engages a triangle, his opponent’s head between his calves, and his arm behind the leg of the defeated future, just to cut off his blood circulation. Gaethje quickly hits the ground, the referee does not see him, the American falls unconscious. The match is over. Khabib Nurmagomedov, who will learn after the battle that he had broken his foot three weeks before, wins his 29e pro fight, including 13 in UFC, and remains undefeated.
This Saturday, October 24 in Abu Dhabi, it is then time to cry, to mourn Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, his father, who died of complications from Covid-19 three months previously, to mourn the one who made him a wrestler, who propelled him into the pantheon fighters. Cry this sport which has now been behind him for a few seconds. Khabib Nurmagomedov threw the gloves to the ground, he has just announced his retirement. “Today I want to tell you that it was my last fight, strikes the Dagestanese, yellow papakha on his head, the traditional Caucasian woolen hat. No chance that I will come back here [combattre] without my father. It was the first time after what happened to him… When the UFC offered me the fight with Justin, I spoke for three days with my mother. And she doesn’t want me to go fight without my dad. So I promised her that this would be my last fight and when I give my word, I respect her. It was my last fight. ”
The announcement falls like a cleaver on the UFC. Khabib Nurmagomedov was one of the stars of the major league of MMA. Everyone thought he would go to the thirtieth fight of his career, so that he reached the goal posted by his father, a year ago: “For Khabib, 30-0 is enough”, he confided. The promise to the widow or the desire of the deceased, we understand the days of discussion and reflection.
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The Russian, 31, leaves despite everything with a status of legend of light weights, as much by his style – not very academic but effective in American boxing, destructive on the ground and in wrestling – as by the statistics. They are only 6 in history (Max Holloway, Jon Jones, Demetrious Johnson, Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre and him) to have won at least 13 fights in a row without defeat. Above all, each of these 13 victories leaves an impression of ease, of domination, in a sport so complex since the danger can come from anywhere, and in any way. He never seemed destabilized for more than a half-round, which ruins a reputation.
A reputation that became a myth one evening in October 2018 in Las Vegas. The Russian faces one of the UFC superstars, Conor McGregor. Provocations from the Irishman and his clan raise the tension weeks before the first gong, and Khabib Nurmagomedov, a pious Muslim who thanks God as much as possible for everything that happens to him, responds under the whistles of McGregor’s supporters: “Al-hamdullilah [Dieu merci en arabe, ndlr] ! I know you don’t like that expression, Al-hamdullilah! Tomorrow night I’m gonna blow it up your guy. “ Something promised, something violently executed since, once again thanks to his excellence on the ground, the Dagestanese submits the Irishman after a dantesque match. But this joust at the top passes into another dimension when, galvanized by his victory, Khabib Nurmagomedov passes over the grid of the octagon, and jumps with both feet into McGregor’s camp in order to wash away the provocations suffered. A general fight which also sees relatives of the Russian attacking the Irishman in the octagon… The mess is unreal. Sanctions fall but, in the eyes of specialists, Khabib Nurmagomedov has despite everything passed definitively in the Olympus of the fighters.
After this clash, Vladimir Poutine meets Nurmagomedov and his father Ulyanovsk. Both, that nothing seems to be able to shake, nevertheless show an embarrassment that we do not know them. Putin, congratulates the athlete, is proud to pose by his side, takes the opportunity to extrapolate the post-match to Russian geopolitics. The Russian president also asks Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov not to punish his son too much despite the general fight. The image is there, fixed: the all-powerful leader of a nuclear power asks the father of one of the greatest fighters of the XXIe century not to be too hard. Behind Khabib was Abdulmanap. This last party, the champion lost his compass. And was surely afraid of losing his soul as well. The fragility of the invincible often arises in the natural things of life.