After Islam Makhachev defeated Charles Oliveira at UFC 280 to claim the lightweight title, his coach and mentor Khabib Nurmagomedov made a bold declaration: they were coming to Australia next to take Alexander Volkanovski’s No. 1 pound-for-pound ranking. Unfortunately for Islam, he’ll now have to accomplish that without Khabib by his side.
At the start of 2023, shocking news emerged from Nurmagomedov’s home country of Dagestan: Khabib was leaving the MMA industry entirely. This followed his initial retirement from competition in October 2020 and two subsequent years of non-stop coaching. According to statements from those close to Khabib, he had decided to spend more time with his family and would no longer be coaching or train.
Khabib’s cousin Umar Nurmagomedov has suggested “The Eagle” will still help a select few that attend his home gym in Dagestan. But now we’re getting confirmation that he won’t be traveling to Australia alongside his main protégé Makhachev for UFC 284 in February. Islam confirmed Khabib’s absence during an interview with FOX Sports Australia.
“When the cage door close, no one is there for you,” he said simply. “Of course, it’s going to be different but I’ve already fought without him a couple of times. And he cannot always be with me.”
“Of course, it’s very good when he is here,” Islam added. “I always like when he is with me because he knows all the games being played. He knows what you need for the fight, for the weight cut, you don’t have to worry about any of this. It’s always good when you have someone as experienced as him. You don’t have to spend your energy thinking about other things. But I understand that he has to spend more time with his family.”
Alexander Volkanovski also downplayed the lack of Khabib Nurmagomedov from his opponent’s camp and corner, mainly so it won’t be used as a mitigating factor when “The Great” wins.
“They better not use it as an excuse once this is all done,” he said. “At the end of the day, Makhachev will prepare and we’re going to fight. He doesn’t need someone to hold his hand. Doesn’t need someone to be in there with him. That’s not a real fighter. So when my hand gets raised, that better not come up.”
In the past, Islam and other Team Khabib members have mentioned how Nurmagomedov always went above and beyond to make sure everyone had everything they needed, and how the G.O.A.T. contender would spare no expense on camps preparing everyone for war. That dedication led to those under his tutelage going 19-2 in 2022.
It’s too early into 2023 to predict how his absence will be felt. But Islam Makhachev vs. Alexander Volkanovski on February 12th will be a big test for his top pupil, and Makhachev will have to do it without Khabib at his side.