There aren’t many who can boast a perfect, undefeated professional record of 28-0 in the wild world of mixed martial arts. Most great fighters tend to start making mistakes when they reach a high level, whether it be in the UFC or any other major promotion, and yet, Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov (the first Muslim to win a UFC title) remains unexposed, unthreatened, and as dominant as ever, with perhaps the best wrestling and unquestionably the best ground and pound in the business today.
Born 20th September 1988, and raised in the Russian Republic of Dagestan, translated as “land of mountains”, Khabib has been rampaging through the UFC’s lightweight division since 2012, barely losing a round, let alone a fight. He has made some of the best in the world look utterly hopeless in the octagon with him, breaking the wills and mentalities of the likes of Edson Barboza, Dustin Poirier, and of course, “The Notorious” Conor McGregor.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of his game is that all of his opponents know exactly what he plans to do heading into a bout, and yet still, nobody can stop it. His takedowns are perfectly executed, and you’re likely not getting back to your feet if he secures top position on you.
While this obviously takes a great deal of skill, Khabib is a unique character (the most followed Russian celebrity on Instagram) with a fascinating background contributing to his fighting mentality and success.
So join us for a closer look at perhaps the best ever lightweight fighter in Khabib Nurmagomedov: Inside the Mind of The Russian Eagle!
Dagestan: A Mecca of Wrestling
Dagestan is a predominantly Muslim region of Southern Russia known for its gorgeous mountain landscapes, an extensive history of conflict, and especially in recent years, its wrestlers. Despite a population of under 3 million, Dagestan has produced a hotbed of Olympians, and an exhaustive list of medals over the years.
Historically, mountain villages and tribes in the region wrestled each other as per tradition, forging the ideals and aspirations in men to become fighters characterised by will, courage and fortitude.
Today, teaching young men to fight is seen as an essential necessity to avoid a life of crime and Islamist terrorism that had previously plagued Dagestan for many years.
To this day, Khabib’s core style is combat sambo, which basically combines freestyle wrestling with judo. Simply, a lifetime of focus on grappling can be deemed responsible for the sheer wrestling dominance that he’s been exercising over everyone else’s throughout his professional career.
Gang Rivalry on the Streets
Nurmagomedov recalls several incidents involving rival schools, gyms and gangs facing off, and each sending out their single best fighter to settle the score. It’s easy to guess amongst who was always one of those such combatants. From his childhood years, he developed a reputation as one of the most feared warriors on the streets, and attributes this experience as pivotal to his professional success.
A Young Khabib Grappled with Bears (seriously!)
As an infant, Khabib’s introduction to the sport of wrestling was unorthodox to say the least. While a lot of us were playing football and rugby in the park when we were children, Khabib was grappling bears in the Dagestani mountains!
“Talent can make you famous, but character is what’s needed to become a legend.” — Khabib Nurmagomedov.
The fearless look of joy in the young eagle as he rolls around with natural predators in mud sheds light on how Khabib has been nurtured to be tough for what appears to be virtually his whole life.
Like Father, Like Son
Khabib and his father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, shared a very close bond throughout, like many fathers and sons. However, in Khabib’s case, Abdulmanap’s involvement with his son’s training right from the very beginning was of vital importance for the lightweight champion, right up until his tragic passing earlier this year.
Abdulmanap himself was an elite-level fighter, earning a Master of Sports recognition in freestyle wrestling, and his skill as a coach is evident in his son’s spectacular performances.
Khabib said at a press conference following his father’s passing:
“Some people have strictly a father-son relationship, but my father was very close to me…We were like friends. He was my father and coach, we were always together. We were very close.”
Many are curious to see how his upcoming performance against Justin Gaethje will be affected by the absence of his father in his corner.
The Power of Faith
A devout Muslim, Khabib and his family follow a lifestyle involving a set of key values that have helped mold him into the fighter he is today.
As a headliner of the most bought UFC pay-per-view of all time (vs. McGregor, UFC 229), he is unquestionably one of the biggest draws in the game. Yet he still leads a life without excessive luxury, out of choice.
“If money go in your mind, this is very bad. This is why we have to stay focused, stay humble, help people”, he said at the UFC 242 press conference. His main focus remains the same as always: Building legacy and providing for his family.