End the speculation, Khabib is not coming back

On Saturday at UFC 257, Dustin Poirier did more than just win a fight between two top lightweights. Of course, he scored the biggest win of his career and handed Conor McGregor his first TKO loss. However, in Etihad Arena, he also dashed any hopes for a rematch between McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov. And, more importantly, he put to bed the undying conversation that the recently retired lightweight champion would come back for one more fight.

If you are one of the few fans still holding on–like Simply Red in 1985–to the idea that “The Eagle” will swoop down to the Octagon, and defend his gold once again, you can knock that off. It’s over. There was always more than enough evidence to prove he was not coming back. Unfortunately, we got caught up in the hype-building mastery of UFC president Dana White, as he strung fans and media along with notions of “one more fight.” Yet, fact and fiction came to a head this weekend in Abu Dhabi, via Poirier’s strategic brilliance. The Dagestani king of ground-and-pound and grappling is not coming back, and here’s why.

Star hype: A false hope

Show me something spectacular.” That’s what White alleges Nurmagomedov told him in a private chat, regarding what the lightweight elites need to do to pull the 32-year-old out of retirement. That is a hell of a statement to make in a division filled with some future hall-of-famers in the prime of their careers. Yet, that is his reality after dispatching his contenders and turning the top of the division into a great name for an 80’s punk band – Do Bronx and Khabib’s Losers.

For a fighter earning in the highest income bracket, a bankable next foe is always important. Yet, Nurmagomedov’s already drubbed the best, and relevant (sorry Nate Diaz) draws in the division in Poirier, Justin Gaethje, and McGregor. A McGregor rematch would have been a goldmine. However, that idea’s off the table after “The Diamond” took the Irishman to the learning tree on calf kicks. Leaving instead, the hopes for some monumental challenge that will stoke Nurmagomedov’s competitive fires, and make him renege on the retirement promise he made to his mother, following his father Abdulmanap’s July death from COVID-19.

In the minds of many observers, Charles Oliveira and former Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler seem like worthwhile contenders. Especially after the Brazilian outclassed former division interim champion Tony Ferguson in December. And Chandler delivered a bonus-winning debut knockout at UFC 257, over sixth-ranked Dan Hooker. Unfortunately for the UFC and fans, there’s no matchup on the horizon that blows back the white hairs on Nurmagomedov’s papakha. At least, it doesn’t seem so based on what White told the media at Saturday’s post-fight press conference.

“I did talk to Khabib. And he said to me, ‘Dana, be honest with yourself. I’m so many levels above these guys. I beat these guys.’ I don’t know,” White said. “It doesn’t sound very positive. He already retired. I’m basically the one that’s been trying to get him to do one more.”

No means no, even in Russian

This result should not be a revelation. I understand retirements in pro sports, especially combat sports, should have a “subject to change” disclaimer over them. However, Nurmagomedov is a different breed. He means what he says, and he says what he means. While his age makes his retirement a surprise, 29-fights, and nearly 13-years in a grueling sport like mixed martial arts makes his decision rational. Especially with the growing knowledge, we have on the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) on the brains of athletes that compete in violent sports like this.

If that wasn’t enough to sway you, in an interview just days before UFC 257, the soon to be former lightweight champion told Russian news service Sport24, “I have left [fighting] behind. Don’t torment me, let me enjoy what I have for today. And just so you know, I’ve sacrificed a lot to get to this level.”

Along with stating his belief that he achieved “almost everything” he could in the sport, Nurmagomedov once again hammered home the fact that keeping his promise to his family’s matriarch is a serious matter.

“My mother is the most precious thing I have left. Come on, you won’t push me to do things that will disappoint my mother.”

Khabib Nurmagomedov, Sport24 (2020)

So you’re saying there’s a chance

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a hidden addendum on his retirement agreement. Nurmagomedov did leave the door open by telling Sport24 he did “almost everything” he wanted in MMA. Meaning there are still some mountains to climb.

There is only one scenario viable enough to get mother Nurmagomedov’s seal of approval. A bout with the one and only Georges St-Pierre. Before his father passed, it had become common knowledge that the elder Nurmagomedov held GSP in high regard. So much so, that one of the last dreams he had for his son was a clash with the former welterweight and middleweight champion, on his son’s turf at lightweight. Khabib’s head coach, Javier Mendez, confirmed as much to TMZ Sports in October.

“His father respected GSP probably more than anybody out of all the people he admired, and therefore he wanted his son to fight GSP at some point.”

Javier Mendez, TMZ Sports (2020)

If there was one thing with enough sentimental value, and emotional weight to bring the best lightweight of all time out of his self-imposed hiatus, it would be to realize his mentor and father’s final hope for a fight with St-Pierre.

Make it happen Dana White!

However, the UFC boss doesn’t appear to be so inclined. So we are left with the lightweight GOAT, retired, for good.

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