But the drama wasn’t finished with the second-round technical submission. The UFC lightweight champion, who lost his father, Abdulmanap, to complications related to COVID-19 in June, broke down in tears in the middle of the octagon after the fight, then announced his retirement and laid his gloves down in the middle of the mat.
“Today I want to say it was my last fight. No way I’m gonna come here without my father,” Nurmagomedov said. “It was first time after what happened with my father. When UFC called me with Justin, I talked with my mother three days. She don’t (want me) to go fight without father, but I promised her it’s gonna be my last fight. And if I give my word, I have to follow this.”
The highly anticipated fight at Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi appeared to be settling into a long and competitive scrap. Gaethje (22-3 MMA, 5-3 UFC) who had won four consecutive bouts to get into this spot, used a lower than normal stance to try to deflect Nurmagomedov’s takedowns. He even successfully sprawled the first attempt.
Gaethje landed several of his trademark low kicks and a few of his heavy overhands, but Nurmagomedov (29-0 MMA, 13-0 UFC) was up to the task in the standup, as he fared well confronting Gaethje’s strong point. A low double-leg led to a takedown in the round’s final moment and foreshadowed the finish.
Gaethje had just landed a wicked blast of a low kick, to which Nurmagomedov visibly reacted, and it seemed things were on. But that’s when Nurmagomedov finished in the blink of an eye, scoring another takedown and quickly turning it into a triangle choke. Gaethje went out after his tap was missed by the referee, and Nurmagomedov had his third straight successful title defense.
If his retirement holds, Nurmagomedov’s career finishes with 13 straight UFC wins, three shy of Anderson Silva’s record streak. It was his 11th career submission to go with eight knockouts and 10 decisions.
“As soon as the fight was over, I just went and told him that he made his father so proud,” Gaethje said. “And he did.”
All three of Gaethje’s career losses have been via finish.
The lightweight title unification bout was the UFC 254 main event at Flash Forum at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. It aired on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN2 and ESPN+.
Complete UFC 254 results:
Khabib Nurmagomedov def. Justin Gaethje via technical submission (triangle choke) – Round 2, 1:34 – to defend lightweight title
Robert Whittaker def. Jared Cannonier via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Alexander Volkov def. Walt Harris via TKO (strikes) – Round 2, 1:15
Phil Hawes def. Jacob Malkoun via knockout (punches) – Round 1, 0:18
Lauren Murphy def. Liliya Shakirova via submission (rear-naked choke) – Round 2, 3:31
Magomed Ankalaev def. Ion Cutelaba via knockout (puches) – Round 1, 4:19
Tai Tuivasa def. Stefan Struve via knockout (punches) – Round 1, 4:59
Casey Kenney def. Nathaniel Wood via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Shavkat Rakhmonov def. Alex Oliveira via submission (guillotine choke) – Round 1, 4:40
Sam Alvey vs. Da Un Jung declared split draw (29-28, 28-29, 28-28)
Miranda Maverick def. Liana Jojua via TKO (doctor’s stoppage) – Round 1, 5:00
Joel Alvarez def. Alexander Yakovlev via submission (armbar) – Round 1, 3:00