Although the ongoing public health crisis has led to the cancellation and postponement of most live sporting events (including, most notably, the 2020 Olympic games), Ultimate Fighting Championship CEO Dana White stuck to his guns — until April 9, that is, when mounting pressure from both ESPN and government officials led White to indefinitely postpone all currently scheduled UFC events for the foreseeable future. That unfortunately included UFC 249, a pay-per-view event that White initially said was still on for April 18, even after the upcoming Fight Nights had already been postponed.
UFC 249 was set to feature reigning lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov defending his title against former interim champ Tony Ferguson, but due to travel restrictions, Khabib confirmed that he is unable to attend. Dana White then picked Justin Gaethje to replace Khabib on the main card before the event was postponed altogether. Ferguson’s long-sought-after title challenge will have to wait, but it’s safe to say that he isn’t the only one hungry for a shot at that belt: The still-undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov is one of the top fighters in the UFC and many MMA fans are already well familiar with his history and career. If you’re curious to learn more about the lightweight champion, then here’s a quick run-down of 10 things you need to know about Khabib.
He’s a Russian national from Dagestan
Khabib was born in 1988 and hails from Dagestan, an autonomous republic in the North Caucasus which was then a part of the Soviet Union and is now a part of the Russian Federation, making him a Russian national. He speaks multiple languages, including Russian, English, Turkish, Arabic, and Avar (one of the native Caucasian languages of Dagestan).
His fighting style is based on Combat Sambo
Nurmagomedov has trained in wrestling and Judo from a young age, but his primary fighting style is based on Combat Sambo, a Russian martial art that originated in the Soviet Union. He started his training at the age of eight under his father. Part of his training included wrestling a bear at the age of nine. Khabib’s current “ground-and-pound” style is made to put high pressure on his opponents by employing aggressive takedowns and tying up their legs and arms to prevent escape before raining down heavy blows from this advantageous position.
….And he’s a former two-time World Combat Sambo Champion
Before his wildly successful run in the UFC, Khabib competed in professional Combat Sambo. Representing Russia, he won two world championships — one in 2009 in Kyiv and a second in 2010 in Moscow. He racked up a 16-0 record in the Russian and Ukrainian fighting circuits before signing on with the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2011.
He holds the longest undefeated streak in the UFC
The UFC has a few undefeated fighters, but Khabib Nurmagomedov is perhaps the most impressive with an unrivaled and unbroken streak of 28 victories. Eight of these wins were by knockout, 10 by submission, and 10 by decision. He now sits at number two in the men’s UFC pound-for-pound rankings (light heavyweight champion Jon Jones currently holds the top spot) and is the top-ranked men’s lightweight fighter.
He formerly fought at welterweight
As a lightweight fighter, Khabib stands at 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs in at 155 pounds, although he formerly fought at welterweight from 2009 to 2011 (with one brief return to lightweight) before his entry into the Ultimate Fighting Championship. His UFC debut match against Kamal Shalorus in January 2012 marked his return to lightweight and the beginning of his eventual ascent to lightweight champion.
He’s the first Muslim to win a UFC title
Nurmagomedov is a devout Sunni Muslim and the first Muslim to hold a UFC championship belt. He doesn’t fight during Ramadan, a month of fasting and prayer in the Islamic faith that falls this year from April 23 to May 23. Khabib has also stated that he needs at least 45 days after Ramadan to recover and restart training — which would add another two months or so to that time — due to the fasting. This is especially important in light of the 2020 coronavirus outbreak because his highly anticipated UFC 249 title fight against Tony Ferguson has now been postponed, meaning that it will have to be rescheduled for some time in September at the absolute earliest.
That interesting wool hat he wears is called a “papakha”
Khabib frequently does press conferences and post-fight interviews wearing a unique blond-colored wool hat. This iconic headwear is called a papakha, which is commonly worn by men throughout the Caucasus region and is part of the Degastani Avar culture from which Nurmagomedov hails. Variants of this are also common throughout Russia and have even been part of Soviet military uniforms.
He’s a family man
Khabib married in 2013 and has two children, a daughter and a son, and he and his wife are expecting a third child this year. He is also the cousin of another UFC fighter, Abubakar Nurmagomedov, who competes in the welterweight division and is a former Sambo champion himself. As with many families in the Caucasus region, wrestling and combat sports are a tradition in the Nurmagomedov clan; Khabib’s father, Abdulmanap, trained him from a young age and is currently a senior trainer and coach for Degastan’s national Combat Sambo team.
His career has not been without some controversies
Nurmagomedov has had a lengthy rivalry with UFC star Conor McGregor, which has led to heated exchanges between the two fighters on more than one occasion. Many MMA fans will remember McGregor’s infamous bus attack before UFC 223, where “The Notorious” smashed out a window of a bus carrying Khabib and other fighters (an incident for which McGregor was charged).
Khabib later defeated McGregor at UFC 229 in October of that year, afterward jumping the cage and rushing Conor’s cornerman who was trash-talking him from outside the Octagon. This led to an altercation between the two fighters’ teams. The incident resulted in Khabib’s payment for the fight being partially withheld and both combatants being barred from fighting pending a hearing. Nurmagomedov ultimately received a $500,000 fine and a nine-month suspension for his involvement in the ordeal but was eligible to fight again in July 2019.
UFC 249 would have marked his third title defense
UFC 249: Khabib vs. Ferguson would have been the third lightweight title defense of Nurmagomedov’s career. Khabib won the vacant title at UFC 223 when he defeated Al Iaquinta via unanimous decision, then successfully defended it twice: Once against Conor McGregor at UFC 229 and most recently against Dustin Poirier at UFC 242 where he won Performance of the Night.
Although the scheduled UFC events have been indefinitely postponed, ESPN+ is still the premier streaming app for all sorts of sports content and it’s the only way you can watch UFC pay-per-view events once they start up again (perhaps we’ll see the next one take place on UFC’s private “fight island”). New subscribers can for just $5 per month or a cheaper $50 per year, or you can score the streaming bundle which includes ESPN+, Disney+, and Hulu for $13 per month and save 25%.
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