Khabib Nurmagomedov — the first Russian inducted to the UFC Hall of Fame: A recall of the Eagle's path in the strongest league

Alisa Barladyan
08 Mar 2022
11:34

March 6 at UFC 272 tournament was important for the Russian mixed martial arts world. Undefeated fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov was inducted to the UFC Hall of Fame, becoming the first Russian fighter who was given this honor. It's a good reason to recall how Nurmagomedov's UFC career developed with MMA.Metaratings.ru.

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Khabib Nurmagomedov

The career beginning

Khabib Nurmagomedov debuted in the UFC on January 21, 2012, a little over ten years ago. The Eagle's first opponent was Iranian fighter Kamal Shalorus who was known to the public for his performance in the WEC. In the third round, Khabib performed a rear-naked choke and won by submission. In the interview after the match, commentator Jon Anik said: "Welcome to America, Khabib Nurmagomedov." Then, 10 years ago, when the Russians in the UFC could be counted on one hand, few believed Khabib would get the belt in the most competitive promotion division.

The fight against Gleison Tibau can be called one of the most difficult in Nurmagomedov's career. The Brazilian looked much bigger and more muscular than Khabib and had more experience. He had been performing in the UFC since 2006 and fought with many top fighters. And if people joke about Khabib now by saying he's a "natural lightweight," then that definition would accurately describe Gleison Tibau. But despite their difference in size and experience, the Eagle managed to win via unanimous decision.

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New level

During the next year, Khabib had three wins, set up a record for the most takedowns in a single fight (21!) in the bout against Abel Trujillo, and faced Rafael dos Anjos — future lightweight champion. The manner of fighting was different from what we are used to seeing from Khabib. Yes, he performed takedowns but also fought in a stance, he used high kicks and stepped on his opponent. The result was a win over dos Anjos via unanimous decision.

This was followed by a long break due to health problems. Nurmagomedov didn't enter the Octagon for two years. In 2016, he shared the cage with Darrell Horcher, who, by the way, will fight in the EFC — Khabib Nurmagomedov's league — on March 11. What a small world! The Eagle defeated Horcher and faced Michael Johnson, the athlete who, according to MMA fans, should have stopped the Russian's winning streak. Yes, Johnson fought almost with anyone one could fight. At that point, he had beaten Poirier, Tibau, and Ferguson. Khabib was the next. However, Nurmagomedov had his own plans. He defeated Johnson in a confident manner, managing to talk to his opponent in between punches. After the bout, Khabib said something that would dramatically change his career in the future. But we'll get to that later.

The next fighter who should have stopped Khabib was Edson Barboza. The MMA fans, some of whom hated Nurmagomedov, said that the Russian wouldn't be able to resist the Brazilian's high kicks. Barboza was considered one of the best kickers in the organization. But Nurmagomedov managed to last the entire distance with Edson, survive several spinning back kicks, and get the tenth victory in the UFC.

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The championship belt and the main fight in MMA history

After the victory over Barboza, it was announced that the next fight of the Russian will be a title fight. In April, the UFC management planned the fight for the belt between Nurmagomedov and Ferguson, but six days before the fight, the American injured his knee. He should have been substituted by Max Holloway, but even here the Russian was unlucky, as doctors forbade Holloway to enter the Octagon.

In the following days, Anthony Pettis, Paul Felder, and Al Iaquinta were named as possible opponents for Khabib. Only Iaquinta agreed to fight at short notice. And so, at UFC 223, Nurmagomedov shared the Octagon with Al in the main fight of his career (perhaps, at the moment Khabib believed in this). Five rounds passed unnoticed, the Russian confidently moved forward and broke his opponent down with punches. By the way, the bout against Iaquinta is the first and last five-round bout in the Eagle's bout which reached the judges' decision. And so, after announcing the results, Dana White put the championship belt on Nurmagomedov's waist.

By that time the conflict between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov had gained momentum. After the victory over Michael Johnson, the Eagle addressed the UFC management and said that the Irish fought for the title against Eddie Alvarez undeservedly. This statement shocked many fans, especially fans from Ireland. After that, it became obvious that the fight between Khabib and Conor was a matter of time.

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In spring 2018, Artem Lobov took a shot at Nurmagomedov in the interview, calling him a coward. After some time, Lobov and Khabib's team accidentally crossed paths during one of the events. Khabib went psycho on Lobov for everything he had said. But Conor McGregor, Lobov's teammate, got involved in the conflict between the Russians and considered it a matter of honor to stand up for his partner. Before the bout against Iaquinta when Khabib and other fighters were leaving the parking lot, Conor attacked the bus and demanded that Khabib come out to talk. The Irishman was arrested, and Khabib promised he would fight with McGregor.

Six months after winning the lightweight belt, the Russian shared the cage with his rival. Two press conferences before the fight in which Conor touched on literally everything that can be touched on: politics, religion, inter-ethnic relations, and the relationship between Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov and Ramzan Kadyrov. In general, Conor did everything to attract as much attention to the fight as possible. And he succeeded.

Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor
Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor

The fight between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov had the record-breaking PPV sales in MMA history. The UFC sold 2.4 million pay-per-views before this fight. For four rounds, Khabib took it out on Conor for everything he said outside the cage. Fans saw the real destruction of the Irishman, which ended with Conor surrendering in the fourth round. But the show didn't end with that. After the bout, Nurmagomedov left the Octagon and attacked Conor's friend Dillon Danis who also offended him. It started the mass brawl which was broken up by local police and UFC security. They didn't put the belt on Khabib, but Bruce Buffer announced the name of the winner. That night will remain forever in UFC history.

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Further title defense and ending of the career

Dustin Poirier who had a four-fight winning streak became Khabib's next opponent. As before, Dustin was predicted to become the first person who stops the Eagle. At UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi, Nurmagomedov got the 12th victory in the league and solidified his title as the best lightweight in the world.

In 2020, MMA fans should have seen perhaps the most expected lightweight fight. The bout between Nurmagomedov and Ferguson was planned for UFC 249. But due to coronavirus, it was never going to happen. Khabib was substituted by Justin Gaethje who defeated Ferguson and became the man who marked the collapse of El Cucuy's career. Gaethje and Nurmagomedov met on October 24 at UFC 254. Everything was the same as a year ago: fall, Abu Dhabi, title fight. But there wasn't the most important thing — Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov. Khabib's father died in summer 2020 from coronavirus consequences. The global MMA community offered condolences to the Nurmagomedovs. The main question was: "What fight will Khabib demonstrate if there is no father in the corner?"

Khabib fought according to his father's plan. In the second round, he performed a triangle choke and beat his opponent. After his victory, Nurmagomedov sat down on the Octagon and started crying. After waiting for the winner to be announced, the Eagle began to take the gloves off. That night, he announced the end of his career.

After going undefeated as champion with a 29-0 record and making real history with his career, he became the owner of his own promotion and continued to enter the Octagon, but now as a coach of his brothers and close friends. At UFC 272, it was declared that Khabib Nurmagomedov was inducted to the UFC Hall of Fame.

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