Not long after a young Khabib Nurmagomedov came to train at his American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California, Javier Mendez welcomed the fighter’s father, Abdulmanap, to the facility.
Nurmagomedov at that point was a prospect of great promise, and his father had coached him from the beginning. Abdulmanap stayed at AKA for a month and one thing stood out to Mendez.
“This guy is one of the greatest MMA coaches ever and not one time did he interfere with the way I was coaching his son or tell me what to do or anything,” Mendez told Yahoo Sports on Friday, not long after news of the the 57-year-old Nurmagomedov’s death in Russia due to complications from COVID-19 was announced.
“As great of a coach as he was, as great as he knew his son was going to be in the UFC, he just stayed away and observed and let me do my job. You don’t find that often. Most parents who send their son to you, who have far less credentials than [Nurmagomedov] did, interfere and give their opinions. He was not that way.”
Mendez said he has coached “countless” fighters who were begun in the sport by Abdulmanap. All of them, Mendez said, were excellent grapplers who were highly disciplined and motivated and among the hardest workers he’d coached.
Abdulmanap and Mendez worked Khabib’s corner together for UFC 242 last year in Abu Dhabi, when Khabib submitted then-interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier in the second round to retain the belt.
Mendez said Abdulmanap had a profound impact upon him.
“He was a guy in a leadership position who was a great leader,” Mendez said. “He did great things for the community [in Dagestan, Russia]. He was always striving to make things better for the people. He did so many humanitarian things and later, he got involved in politics so he had another way to try to help.
“On top of that, you’re talking about one of the greatest MMA coaches of all time. He was just a tremendous coach. He instilled discipline in all of his fighters. He wasn’t a control freak by any means and he knew how to get the best out of people. But he was strict and because the fighters respected him so much, they didn’t often get out of line.”
Mendez said he hadn’t spoken directly to Khabib, but said they left voice messages for each other.
“This is a great loss,” Mendez said. “Everyone has so much respect for Khabib, and his father raised him to be the man that he’s become. I was hoping God would give us a break and allow him to recover, but I woke up to this horrible news today.”
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