After his high-profile match with Conor McGregor in the UFC Octagon, some said that Khabib Nurmagomedov, one of the best grapplers in the world, jumping over the gate to attack Connors team as he lands a sidekick mid-air into Conor’s coaches body, was unreasonable. The conflict caused a huge brawl between the two teams and even in the crowds between the fans. The anger built from Conor’s trash talking made Khabib dishonor the lessons taught by his father, a veteran fighter himself.
Khabib was born in 1988 in a small village of the Republic of Dagestan– an ethnically diverse republic of Russia on the Caspian sea–and raised with a small yet well-connected Muslim family. His hard-working father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, was a world champion in Judo and Sambo–a Russian style of martial art. Abdulmanap trained both Khabib and his brother Mogamed from an early age, while also stressing family, religion, and respect.
Abdulmanap had high expectations for both of his boys, insisting that they become as talented and skilled as himself. At the same time, terrorism was becoming a problem in Dagestan. To prepare the boys for war, he built a gymnasium at the dark basement of their small house, believing that “every man must be ready for war even in peaceful times.”
To further develop Khabib’s skills, he was enrolled in wrestling classes at thirteen. Once Khabib got the love for the sport, his father insisted that he join Judo and Sambo following his father’s footsteps. Only a year later, Khabib started taking Judo classes at fifteen, eventually achieving his black belt in later years. Trying to follow the lessons of his demanding father, at the age of seventeen, he began to train Sambo which includes both grappling and striking movements. Khabib was just starting to feel the punch, trying to stay on top of his education, mastering three intensive training sports, and keeping his father proud. Abdulmanap did not want to see failure, he wanted his son to become advanced, and quickly. Khabib started to take on two to three-hour challenging hikes, with other men in the village. While everyone motivated each other like gym buddies, Khabib started lifting enormous rocks, competing in outdoor wrestling, and most importantly, making sure the family was safe.
To his dad, there was never a limit to what Khabib could be expected to do. Even when Khabib was only nine years old, Abdulmanap had to see what his son was capable of, so he had him wrestle bears.
There was nothing like wrestling a bear. The massive beast clawed right through his new hard-earned jacket which his dad had bought him. “If the bear bites you, bite back, you have teeth too,” his dad said. The whole village was there, yelling at the top of their lungs. Getting both paws of the beast, Khabib managed to flip the bear on its side, flying right into its hairy stomach. At the end of the day, according to his father, “this was a test of character more than exercise.”
Khabib made his debut in mixed martial arts (MMA) in 2008, hoping to make his family proud. Khabib managed to secure an arm lock within four minutes, leading to an immediate submission, getting his first MMA win. Later on, he fought three opponents in one night, getting an astonishing three consecutive wins. When he got a little taste of the victory and fame, it boosted his ego. From there he won the Inaugural Atrium Cup Tournament Championship in Moscow, defeating his three opponents. This Moscow victory earned him a lot of fame around the city, slowly branching off into the whole country. For the next three years, he used his long and impressive grappling and striking experience to go undefeated, with submission and technical knockout wins.
His sixteen-straight wins caught the eye of the UFC and they signed a six-fight contract in 2011. Now that Khabib was going into the big leagues, he wanted to dedicate some part of his career to the people that were by him from the beginning. “I don’t fight for the money. I fight for my legacy. I fight for history. I fight for my people,” Khabib said. He took up the moniker, “the Eagle,” a symbol of the Dagestan Republic. He declared, “I would like to be a worthy representative of my Motherland and my people.” He also started wearing his papakha hat to shine the light on his Avar culture.
In his 2012 UFC debut, he fought Kamal Shalorus. The tiring fight went on for three rounds until Khabib managed to integrate his grappling skills, managing to secure a neck choke. After that victory, Khabib continued on to pound down more fighters gaining himself a clean 27 winning streak record. After his match against Abel Trujillo in 2013, he became to known as “The Takedown God” having set a UFC record of 21 successful takedowns.
After years of blood and sweat, his big day as the lightweight champion came on April 7th, 2018 when he defeated Al Iaquinta by judges’ decision. It was a very emotional day not only for Khabib but his father as well. For Abdulmanap, seeing his son on the big screens moving to such high levels, brought a tear to his eyes.
“My background is to smash opponents – make him flat, make him give up, make him broken; this is my style,” Nurmagomedov once said. But there’s more to Khabib’s style than that. Khabib managed to create his own signature fighting skills over the years, implementing his ground and stand up game. The main goal is to get them to the ground as fast as possible, and from there, Khabib continues to strike their head. If the opponent manages to survive this torture, one way or the other, you will end up in Khabib’s hands, tapping out. Once the fight goes to the ground with Khabib, you should say your prayers because the fight is already over.
As the physical part of the sport was becoming less of a problem for him, the psychological part started becoming a huge challenge. Having such close personal connection with his family and religion, it was really easy for an opponent to get under Khabib’s skin. So when he got challenged by Conor McGregor to a fight, people knew that this was going to get personal, given McGregor’s history of insults against his opponents. Two press conferences were set up between the fighters, and they began throwing insults towards each other. Before going in, Khabib remembered to keep what his dad told him, “Do what you have to do in the Octagon. Let your actions speak for itself.” As they both walked into the press to have a seat, Khabib was sweating knowing his whole family was watching him in the crowd.
Conor at first started to make the typical insults about his looks such as “little weasel”, to a “little fanboy bi***”, to a “backwards c***.” To which Khabib replied, “He can say whatever he wants. When alcoholic, some drunk guy talk, nobody cares about him. We just leave him alone, ignore him. And when we go to the cage, we’ll both see who gonna talk.”
Khabib was prepared for this moment. He knew what he was dealing with, but the following comments that McGregor made, boiled not only Khabib’s but his dad’s blood as well. “His manager is a f**king snitch terrorist rat and that’s it. I don’t even know how that man is in this f**king country.” After the conference, he commented on Abdulamap’s Instagram post saying, “You’re a coward just like your middle son.” Connor’s judo coach also made racist comments about Khabib’s family, calling them terrorists and peasants. As the cheering in the press got louder from McGregor’s fans, the silence from Khabib’s side definitely added some intensity to the room. Khabib simply said, “I don’t know what his father teach him, but my father teach me, you can not never give up, and give respect always,” Nurmagomedov said. “ And I never give up, and I always show respect. I don’t want to talk s**t about his father. I am gonna teach him inside the cage.” After McGregor’s insults, Khabib refused to shake his hands both before and during the fight. The conference had remained one-sided for the most part as Khabib kept his silence but was clearly seething.
October 6th, the day of the fight had arrived but Abdulmanap was unable to attend since he could not obtain a visa. Not having his role model’s support and presence by him during the biggest moment of his life was disappointing knowing he was there through his whole life.
As he walked into the Octagon he could see his enemy across from him. It was finally time for Khabib to let go of the bears, and start defeating the Irish Gorilla. During the fight, the more punches Khabib got, he repeatedly yelled, “Talk now!” Then the Eagle dove in for the Gorilla’s leg. Now McGregor was hopeless, and it was just about how much longer he could last. As he gave his back to Khabib, the Eagle managed to choke the Gorilla’s neck, winning in the fourth round by decision.
The fight was over. But Khabib did not stop there,
All the rude comments that were made by McGregor and his coaches had gotten into his head. He jumped over the Octagon and managed to kick the coach. Although he missed, he managed to get one punch on the Judo coach, before being pulled away by the refs. Right there, in the blink of an eye, Khabib has let everyone down including his family.
In the press after the fight, he clearly had time to realize his awful decision and he was caught up with the everything at the moment. The biggest night for the UFC, having millions of people watching, was ruined. With one mistake, two million dollars of prize money was withheld due to his harming and violating Connor’s team. However, as Abdulmanap said himself, “My team has always been famous for discipline. So the sanctions against Khabib will be tougher than the UFC.”
“I know my father is going to smash me,” Khabib said.
The Russian Eagle, is not wanting a rematch, in fact he is planning on to fight Floyd Mayweather in the boxing ring sometime next year. The young man still has many fights ahead of him, breaking new records, and rehabilitating his reputation. Abdulmanap and Khabib are still training to see what next move for the undefeated fighter is. Khabib’s ability to deal with the mental games played by his opponents may be an open question. However, one thing is for sure, you cannot deny that in the UFC, the Eagle is perched at the top of the game.