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After a meeting in Las Vegas, White and the UFC finally acknowledged Nurmagomedov’s retirement. White posted a photo on Instagram with the former lightweight campion, saying Nurmagomedov is “100 percent officially retired” and thanked him for the years of competition under the UFC banner.
The recognition of Nurmagomedov’s retirement comes five months late, as the Dagestani fighter first announced he was done last October after defeating Justin Gaethje at UFC 254. It was an emotional scene for Nurmagomedov, who had lost his father and coach, Abdulmanap, months prior due to complications from COVID-19. Immediately after the fight, “The Eagle” broke into tears, took off his gloves and said, “It was my last fight, no way I’m going to come here without my father.” He had made a promise to his mother, too.
It felt like a genuine goodbye, far from a ploy to leverage the UFC for more money.
Yet, despite all the indicators and comments from Nurmagomedov reaffirming the decision, White insisted that he could bring back Nurmagomedov and that the retirement wasn’t set in stone.
Many people, including myself, clamored to say that Nurmagomedov should be left alone and that White needed to respect his decision. Constant comments from White about a potential comeback, several meetings in both Abu Dhabi and Las Vegas, and more, it all just seemed tone deaf from the UFC’s side.
But now, with no powerful forces trying to lure Nurmagomedov back into the fight game and with a title fight booked for what once seemed like Nurmagomedov’s lightweight belt for years to come, the farewell of a historical and generational talent has sunk in. And White’s efforts to bring back Nurmagomedov are now seen a little differently – and dare I say, even appreciated.
Nurmagomedov left the sport abruptly. It was a shock to the entire combat sports world.
At just 32, Nurmagomedov was in a unique position that very few are able to attaint. He was unbeaten, which is unheard of at the elite level of MMA, and he reached the top of arguably the toughest division in the sport while still proving to be levels above his counterparts.
Nurmagomedov didn’t reach the top of the mountain by emptying out his gas tank and struggling to get by. He did it with unstoppable pressure and relentless takedowns that, with time, they just became law of nature.
He didn’t give the world any notion that he was slowing down, and his best performance was his last with a masterful submission win over the dangerous Gaethje. Nurmagomedov had two or three solid years left in his prime.
Which makes you wonder: How far could Nurmagomedov have taken his legacy? What levels of greatness were attainable? How long could he have remained unbeaten in a sport where defeat is inevitable?
Those are all questions that will never get answered.
There have been many greats, some maybe greater than Nurmagomedov depending on who you ask, but it’s undeniable that no one has done it like he has. His dominance is historical and second to none. There will never be another fighter that avoids the inevitable pitfalls of the sport both in and out of the cage.
It’s a shame to see Nurmagomedov go, as it feels like there was a considerable amount left on his runway of greatness without getting too close to the edge.
White certainly got pushy, but at least we can rest easy knowing that there was nothing to be done. God knows White and the UFC did everything in their power to get their superstar to push the bar further, even for just one last dance.
For history’s sake, I now can appreciate White’s efforts to get Nurmagomedov back in the game. Sure, there was plenty of money for the UFC to make from Nurmagomedov, as he’s one of the most prestigious and recognized names in combat sports. But there was also a lot of potential history, records, and new bars to be set.
When there’s that level of greatness on the line, all you can do is appreciate what you saw.