FIGHT ISLAND — Khabib Nurmagomedov sent Justin Gaethje to sleep, cried in the middle of the Octagon at UFC 254, and then announced his retirement from professional fighting.
It was yet another submission for the Dagestan sambo specialist who extended his professional MMA record to 29-0 with a victory over the American striking maestro Justin Gaethje.
It brings to an end an extraordinary career as Nurmagomedov, the UFC lightweight champion, took his gloves off for the final time at Abu Dhabi — a place which has become his home away from home.
When the UFC President Dana White, in conjunction with the Abu Dhabi department of culture and tourism (DCT), built an area in which the world’s leading mixed martial arts firm could hold international events amid the coronavirus pandemic, Fight Island became an unexpected star in July.
UFC executives played early morning golf at the Yas Links, Russian athletes grappled on the sand at Yas Beach, and other fighters took joyrides in pimped-out sports cars around the $1.32 billion Yas Marina race track.
And then there were the fights.
Perhaps the only way the second Fight Island festival from September to October could top the inaugural event in July was the inclusion of Nurmagomeov.
But very few outside Nurmagomedov’s family could have expected his 29th match, and win, to be his last.
Watch any Nurmagomedov fight and you’ll see dominance regardless of the level he’s competed at.
He’s out-pointed Rafael dos Anjos, submitted Conor McGregor with a neck crank before flying out the cage like an eagle to attack the Irishman’s Octagonside friends, and he’s made Dustin Poirier tap to a rear-naked choke at UFC 242 last year.
The Fight Island finale on Saturday, October 24 inside the purpose-built Flash Forum on Yas Island was his first fight since defeating Poirier, his first of the pandemic, and his first since losing his father.
It was also one of his best. A win in which he pressed Gaethje from the start, forcing an uncomfortable pace onto his opponent.
Nurmagomedov beat Justin Gaethje in the second round.
Gaethje won the opening round on two of the three judges’ scorecards perhaps because he approached the fight with aggression, landing 23 of 37 strikes for a 63% accuracy which included strong punches and bruising leg kicks.
Late in the opener, Nurmagomdov landed the second of his two takedowns in that round and sought an armbar finish, however, five minutes had elapsed and the first frame was over.
But little more than a minute and a half into the second round, Nurmagomedov had his finish.
Founded on his expert grappling, Nurmagomedov took Gaethje down for the final time in the fight, enjoyed full mount, and worked a triangle choke submission.
The challenger tapped again but the referee Jason Herzog did not intervene, unaware Gaethje had been beaten, and so he ended up unconscious.
As cutsmen entered the Octagon to check on Gaethje, Nurmagomedov dropped to his knees in the center of the Octagon and could be seen sobbing into his forearms.
As calm restored in the main event of the evening, Nurmagomedov dropped his gloves on the floor and announced his career was over.
He wanted to bow out as the sport’s No.1 fighter, having promised his mother it would be his final fight.
“Thank you for these guys, these guys with me, been with my father for more than 10 years. All my team, AKA [American Kickboxing Academy] with coach Javier [Mendez], I love him so much, all my team.
“Today, I want to say, this was my last fight. No way am I going to come here without my father. It was first time, after what happened with my father, when UFC called me about Justin.
“I talk with my mother three days, she don’t want that I go fight without father. I promised her, it’s going to be my last fight, and if I give my word, I have to follow this. It was my last fight here.”
Nurmagomedov suggested he’s cleared the division of challengers
“I know only one thing I want from UFC, you guys have to be me on No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, because I deserve this.
“UFC undisputed, undefeated lightweight champion, 13-0, 13 in UFC, 29 in all pro MMA career. I think I deserve it.
“One more thing, I want to say thank you Lorenzo Fertitta, thank you Dana [White]. Thank you so much, and of course I don’t forget about Joe Silva who signed me here in UFC. Joe Silva, thank you.
“All this UFC team, everybody around the world, this whole pandemic stuff, they are doing great show. Thank you so much Justin.
“Justin, 2016 I remember when I cut weight, you helped me a lot. Thank you, brother. I know you are a great man, I know how you take care of your people. I know a lot of things about you, because of your parents, because one day, it’s going to happen something. You never know what is going to happen tomorrow, you never know.
“Today is my last fight here in UFC. It was my father’s dream. Dustin and Conor are going to fight January, I choke them out, both of them. I’m not interested in this.”