There’s a lot about fighting that Khabib Nurmagomedov misses, but at the same time, the former UFC lightweight champion was also happy to escape the daily grind.
Now several months removed from his retirement, the 32-year-old former fighter can reflect back a little bit more on his decision to hang up his gloves arguably at the peak of his career.
He was just moments removed from vanquishing yet another top contender in Justin Gaethje and that came after Nurmagomedov had dispatched both Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor in previous fights. Days after his last win, Nurmagomedov also ascended to the top of the UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings, which is an achievement he sought after moving to a perfect 29-0 in his career.
While he’s still a constant presence in the sport thanks to work he’s doing with his training partners and students, Nurmagomedov is happy he’s not stuck in the same cycle that fighters go through day in and day out in order to stay on top.
“I am living the life of an ordinary person, not the one of a professional athlete,” Nurmagomedov said when speaking to UFC Russia. “I think living the life of an athlete is somewhat close to being held in a prison. Because everyday he has to do exactly the same thing — train, rest, then train again, then rest. It’s like living in the same mode, at the same pace, not slowing down.
“Once you slow down, you are no longer a champion. So I have just released myself from this prison in a way.”
As much as he’s escaped the repetition that goes into the life of a champion, Nurmagomedov definitely still misses a lot of those moments, especially when he was spending time in the gym with his coaches and teammates.
That said, Nurmagomedov isn’t conflicted about his decision to retire after making a promise to his mother that he would call it a career following his last fight.
“Well, I miss almost everything if I can say so,” Nurmagomedov said. “There are so many moments when I feel lack of competition or it’s spirit, you know. There are many things that I miss. Simply because I spent my entire life doing them. No, there was not a single moment when I had regrets or doubts about my decision. However, I miss this competition environment itself, training camps, losing weight, etc.
“Because it’s some sort of an addiction and you can’t get rid of it, it simply exists. Sometimes you just want to enter the octagon and kick ass, fight for five rounds straight and make it really tough. But life is life. Even if not now, then at some point in life, I’d have quit and say no to this sport anyway.”
Very few fighters in mixed martial arts get the opportunity to go out on top but that’s exactly what Nurmagomedov did by retiring as the reigning and defending UFC lightweight champion.
Of course, he didn’t get to break the all-time UFC title defense record and there are always going to be comparisons to other athletes who are continuously adding to their resumes while Nurmagomedov is still retired.
In a way that actually helps Nurmagomedov reconcile with his decision to walk away when he did because in reality no matter when he left the sport, there were always going to be new challenges awaiting him.
“Only time will tell [if this was the right time to retire],” Nurmagomedov said. “It always does. Should have I or should have I not? We may endlessly speculate. Khabib had such a chance to fight with this guy or that guy but it’s a never ending talk. There will always be new contenders, new champions. Much younger, much hungrier. They were before me and they will be after me.
“So you have to keep it in mind and leave this sport when the right time comes. The wealthiest man is the self-sufficient one. If you have just the right amount of everything, you are at peace with your head and thoughts, then you are the wealthiest. Even if you don’t have all those millions, that posh life, if what you have is enough, then you will always be the wealthiest.”
When he retired, Nurmagomedov was almost universally hailed as the greatest lightweight fighter in MMA history, which is saying a lot considering the history of that division.
That would also make him the greatest UFC lightweight champion as well, although looking back now, Nurmagomedov is honest enough to confess that the title never meant as much to him as it may have other fighters.
“Well of course in our sport, it’s the highest peak — to win the belt, to become the best fighter,” Nurmagomedov said. “I reached this top and you know, I didn’t feel much satisfaction to be honest. I’m sure many people think ‘wow’ and so on but I didn’t feel [some sort of thrill].
“I didn’t feel what I expected to feel. Thought I would get more satisfaction in a way but I didn’t.”
Regardless of his own feelings towards the title, Nurmagomedov is now doing everything in his power to help his teammates achieve whatever goals they have in the sport including the potential to become a UFC champion one day.
“I have guys around me who started with me and they were with me from the very beginning,” Nurmagomedov explained. “I would like to support them to let the achieve their goals and to become successful in the way they want.
“They are going down the way that I’d already been through and I can be useful and support them with a piece of advice. They know they can count on me. So this is my goal, to help them.”