Khabib Nurmagamedov made the stunning decision to retire undefeated after 29 fights. He successfully defended his lightweight title for the third time, by beating Justin Gaethje via triangle choke in Abu Dhabi. Everybody expected him to take one more fight and attempt to bring his record up to 30-0.
But now there is a vacuum at the top of the division. The big question is who will fight now for the title? There is no outstanding contender because every likely contender at 155 lb is coming off a loss. The only exception is Conor McGregor, but his last win was at welterweight against a fading Donald Cerrone.
What looks most likely to happen is that McGregor will fight Dustin Poirier in a rematch for the vacant strap. Gaethje will be unable to fight for six months because Khabib put him to sleep. Then, there’s nobody else close enough to contention. Who do you think deserves the shot?
Good performance @TeamKhabib.
I will carry on.
Respect and condolences on your father again also. To you and family.
Yours sincerely, The McGregors.
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) October 24, 2020
Khabib put on a stunning performance against Gaethje to win the fight. He walked the American down and even ate a few heavy shots without batting an eyelid. Then he sank in the submission and put the former interim champion to sleep. After this, he had an emotional farewell. This obviously stunned the MMA world. Many UFC fighters paid tribute to one of the greatest of all-time – even Conor McGregor. He tweeted:
“Good performance @TeamKhabib. I will carry on. Respect and condolences on your father again also. To you and family. Yours sincerely, The McGregors.”
Of course, the “I will carry on’ part is what attracted the most attention. In short, it appears that he is ready to fight for the lightweight title – for the third time. This has split fans. Many believe that he needs to earn it. Others are pointing to the fact that he is a massive star and it will be good for the UFC if he could be a champion again – especially after the loss of a huge draw in Khabib.
Meanwhile, Khabib’s retirement has effectively killed several potential match-ups. Obviously, there was the chance of the Russian fighting McGregor again. Tony Ferguson is the great lost fight we never got. Then there was the dream of Khabib fighting Georges St-Pierre. Many hoped that this clash between two generations would go down in his final fight. In an interview after the fight, Georges St-Pierre told MMA Junkie:
“It did not happen. I’m good where I am. Khabib is invincible now. He’s undefeated. It was a perfect career. There’s nothing we can say bad about him. It’s a perfect career, like 29-0 and you retire on top with the best performance of his career. What do you want more? It was incredible. It was a perfect fight in a perfect career – as close as it gets.
I always see an athlete taking too many fights. … That’s something I really don’t wish (on) someone. Khabib did an amazing decision. Like everything in life, everything has a beginning and has an end. The life of a professional athlete, even an elite athlete, has a window. If we fight past that window, that’s when the problems arrive and appear.”
Furthermore, St-Pierre believes that the Russian made the right decision. It also looks to have ended any hope of the Canadian coming back for just one more fight. He always said that he would only return to face Khabib, but that won’t happen now. However, ‘Rush’ doesn’t feel like he’s missed an opportunity.
“Khabib, follow your heart,” St-Pierre said. “Follow what makes you happy and what makes people who love (you) happy. No pressure. Take the right decision at the right time, and the possibilities for you are limitless. You can do whatever you want. Congratulations. What an amazing career. Man, it was a perfect fight and a perfect career that you have.”
Finally, Khabib walks away undefeated and with his health. In sum, that is something that very few combat sports athletes can claim. Fans should be honored that they got to watch a legend in action.