As Khabib Nurmagomedov celebrates his birthday today, the 31-year-old has made extraordinary leaps and bounds throughout his MMA career. Let’s take a look back at the career-defining moments of the undisputed lightweight champion.
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Abel Trujillo, UFC 160:
Khabib Nurmagomedov faced Abel Trujillo at UFC 160 in 2013. The fight was Nurmagomedov’s fourth appearance in the UFC Octagon, but it was a timeless performance that showcased his grappling capabilities. Trujillo was a rising UFC prospect who made his UFC debut a few months prior. He knocked Marcus LeVesseur in the second round and was intending on making a name for himself in the lightweight division.
Despite a relatively slow start, Nurmagomedov instigated a takedown and dominated Trujillo in every round. His relentless attack highlighted major holes in the grappling game of his American opponent. Whilst Trujillo demonstrated speed and managed to land a few punches in the second round, it was no match for Nurmagomedov’s suffocating pressure. By the third round, ‘Killa’ had evidently given up. Like an anaconda devouring its prey, Trujillo was being eaten alive by ‘The Eagle’s’ superior ground game. The exhaustion and frustration of Abel Trujillo was both painful and exhilarating to watch.
Prior to the fight, Khabib Nurmagomedov had achieved 19 professional wins, however, his performance against the Blackzillian exhibited his ruthless fighting style that was a sign of things to come. It also perfectly displayed the psychological loss that his opponents succumb to ( some sooner than others.) Abel Trujillo was an example of a fighter who lost the fight before it even finished. As a result, ‘The Eagle’ set a record for most takedowns in a fight and set a new fighting precedent native to Dagestan. His defeat over Abel Trujillo was an influential fight that would signify Khabib Nurmagomedov’s skyrocket to stardom.
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Michael Johnson, UFC 205:
At the time of UFC 205, Michael Johnson was coming off one of the most important wins of his career, a KO victory over Dustin Poirier. He was confident he could deliver the same again, but Johnson underestimated the power of the Dagestani Eagle.
Just 50 seconds into the fight, Johnson delivered a powerful punch that some believe hurt Khabib. He threw his knock out power around the cage in an effort to dismantle ‘The Eagle’s’ composure and steady footwork. ‘The Menace’ offered a performance that challenged the stand-up game of Khabib Nurmagomedov and landed some decent punches. Arguably, Johnson vindicated his lack-lustre striking against Nate Diaz and Beneil Dariush in the process, but it wasn’t enough to rock his opponent or even significantly challenge him. Nurmagomedov shifted his weight around the Octagon, dodging Johnson’s striking bullets. He maintained razor-sharp focus and closed the distance before smothering ‘The Menace’ with a relentless attack. ‘The Eagle’ dragged him down to the ground and demolished his opponent. The Missouri native survived into the second round and demonstrated incredible heart but eventually tapped out to a kimura submission in the third. Johnson is confident he will fight Khabib Nurmagomedov again, but the lightweight champion has his sights set on higher-ranked opponents (ie. Tony Ferguson)
“I wasn’t comfortable in that fight, and I still hurt him,” Michael Johnson said to MMAjunkie. “I was thinking about his wrestling. But keep this in mind, and this is for sure: I will face Khabib again, and this time it’s going to be a different scenario.”
Khabib Nurmagomedov’s fight against Michael Johnson proved that the Russian ‘Eagle’ can overthrow UFC veterans and different MMA skillsets, all in one fell swoop.
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Al Iaquinta, UFC 223:
One of the most memorable fights in Khabib’s UFC career was his 2018 performance against Al Iaquinta. Even the most loyal Russian fans can admit that Iaquinta was one of the only real adversities to challenge ‘The Eagle’. Nurmagomedov stuck with what he knows best and maintained takedown pressure, but Iaquinta managed to scramble out of some of ‘The Eagle’s’ traps. Instead of resigning to the same fate as Rafael Dos Anjos or Abel Trujillo, The ‘Raging’ lightweight showed an ability to manoeuvre out of dangerous positions. He remained weighted in his feet and stood up to the adversity of Nurmagomedov’s attack.
Nevertheless, the New Jersey fighter ate some hard punches. All bloodied up, he continued pressing forward and threw some strong strikes with conviction. Their 2018 matchup was Khabib’s first 5-round fight. As the fight progressed, it appeared that Nurmagomedov’s gas tank was emptying and Iaquinta capitalised off this to deliver some strikes. Often opponents become so enraptured in takedown defence, they are unable to deliver an attack. Al Iaquinta was the exception to this rule. He was not afraid to stand up and his hardened performance should earn him a spot in the ‘baddest motherfu***er’ hall of fame alongside Nate Diaz or Jorge Masvidal. It goes without saying that Nurmagomedov delivered the dominant performance, and he ended up taking home the unanimous decision. However, Al Iaquinta relinquished a duel of scrambling and striking that rivalled Nurmagomedov’s otherwise one-sided fighting.
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Conor McGregor, UFC 229:
Nurmagomedov’s most notorious fight (pardon the pun) was the much-anticipated battle against Conor McGregor. Not only was it a clash of legendary fighting styles, it was a clash of cultures. The endless trash-talking between the pair exhausted every MMA news outlet leading up to the fight and manifested in violence in and outside the Octagon. Prior to the fight, Conor McGregor’s team ambushed a bus, hoping to target the Russian. They threw a dolly at it and injured passengers. If physical violence wasn’t enough, the Irish warrior sent a tirade of abuse towards Nurmagomedov’s religion, wife and team. ‘The Eagle’ fired back on UFC 229 fight night.
Khabib Nurmagomedov kept consistent pressure on his Irish foe throughout four rounds. At the time, ‘Mystic Mac’ was coming off wins against Nate Diaz, Eddie Alverez and an explosive KO victory over UFC veteran, Jose Aldo. His striking ability is heralded as some of the best the UFC has ever seen, but it was not enough to overcome the submission weaponry of Khabib Nurmagomedov. McGregor focused predominantly on defending the takedown, and couldn’t administer the same level of offence seen against opponents such as Max Holloway. His efforts eventually diminished as Khabib Nurmagomedov got on top and submitted ‘Notorious’ via a neck crank in the fourth round.
‘The Eagle’ called McGregor’s trash-talking into question as he suffocated him up against the fence. ‘Let’s talk now,’ said the Dagestani fighter as he delivered ground and pound. Despite winning the fight and defending his title, Nurmagomedov’s rage spilt over the octagon fence. He jumped over the cage and attacked Conor McGregor’s team following the win. A brawl ensued, somewhat overshadowing the victory and resulting in a suspension for Nurmagomedov. The high-tension craziness of the night achieved record-breaking PPV numbers and is likely the most covered rivalry in UFC history.
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Dustin Poirier, UFC 242:
Nurmagomedov’s last fight was another notch on his 28-0 scoreboard tally. His stellar performance against Dustin Poirier has set his undefeated record in stone and shut down any doubters.
Irrespective of Khabib’s talent, ‘The Diamond’ is a world-class fighter who’s technical striking and solid ground game makes him a well-rounded opponent. Through his fighting journey, Poirier has demonstrated an evolving fighting intelligence and maturity that has defeated gold-standard contenders. His four-fight win streak against Max Holloway, Justin Gaethje, Eddie Alverez and Anthony Pettis, gave fans the confidence that Poirier could challenge Nurmagomedov’s championship reign. It set the stage for a real-life Rocky movie where the American Top Team prospect could conquer the Russian kingpin.
As the current lightweight interim champion, Poirier certainly had the credentials, however ‘The Diamond’ in the rough received another blemish to his record. Nurmagomedov put his mauling abilities on full display, maintaining control and composure and securing a submission victory in round three. Poirier came close to administering a guillotine choke in the third round, however, Nurmagomedov insisted in a post-fight interview that it was part of the fight game: allowing his opponent to exhaust all energy to create a submission opening and execute the finish. His victory over Poirier dispelled any rumours of ring rust and proved there are very few prospects left in the division who could challenge his unfaltering win-streak.
As he turns 31 today, Khabib Nurmagomedov can take the day to bask in the glory of being another year older and another year undefeated. What moment in Khabib Nurmagomedov’s career stands out to you? Let us know in the comments below.