Khabib Nurmagomedov made a mid-fight decision to submit Justin Gaethje with a triangle choke rather than an armbar so that he didn’t hurt him in front of his parents.
That staggering revelation came from Khabib’s former teammate and two-division champion Daniel Cormier, after Nurmagomedov finished Gaethje in the second round at UFC 254 on Sunday (AEDT) to retain his lightweight title.
Nurmagomedov (29-0) then retired post-fight, saying that he did not want to compete again without his father Abdulmanap, who died of COVID-19 complications this year.
Nurmagomedov, one of the most savage competitors ever to grace the Octagon, was emotional about his father after the fight. And he apparently granted Gaethje (22-3) and his parents – John and Carolina Gaethje, who were cageside in Abu Dhabi – an extraordinary act of mercy as the bout ended.
“He told me when he was watching the interviews over the course of the week, he saw that Justin said he would never tap,” Cormier told ESPN’s Ariel Helwani.
“And so when he was going to the submission … it (triangle choke) is his dad’s favourite submission, right. He got a mounted position; go into the armbar, [or] go into the triangle.
“He said it was his father’s favourite submission, so when he got there, he was going to do the armbar but he had heard Justin all week say he would never tap. And he didn’t want to hurt him in front of his parents, so he went to the triangle and just kind of put him to sleep.
“I promise you, he actually told me that. He goes, ‘I didn’t want to hurt him in front of his parents, so I said I’m gonna put him in a triangle and if he goes to sleep, you go to sleep, you wake up, you’re fine’.
“That’s exactly what he told me. That’s crazy, right? He did not want to hurt Justin in front of his parents.”
Helwani responded: “What? That gives me goosebumps.”
The revelation speaks to two things: Nurmagomedov’s respect for Gaethje’s incredible toughness and willpower, and also Khabib’s supreme state of mind in the Octagon. To contemplate such a thing against a dangerous opponent in the midst of a championship fight is extraordinary.
“To be comfortable enough to think about this in the moment … that’s crazy,” said Cormier, the UFC’s former light-heavyweight and heavyweight champion.
“He didn’t want to break his arm, because if Justin’s not going to tap, he’d have to break it and he didn’t want to do that in front of his mum and dad. He said if I put him to sleep, he’ll wake up and everything will be OK.”
Nurmagomedov, 32, actually told Gaethje post-fight to treasure his relationship with his parents, still grieving the devastating loss of his beloved father and coach.
“Be close to your parents because one day it’s going to happen. You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow, you never know,” he said.
Gaethje, interim 155lbs champion going into the fight, was Khabib’s third big-name finish in a row inside the Octagon. He beat Dustin Poirier by rear naked choke and Conor McGregor by neck crank in his previous two fights.