From a fighter to a fight promoter, Khabib Nurmagomedov has come a long way to start a new inning in the United States.
Khabib said he still has a lot to learn about the other side of the fight game after his Eagle FC fight promotion held their US debut in Miami on Friday night.
Russian Khabib, 34, defeated interim champion Justin Gaethje with a second-round triangle choke submission to claim the 29th victory and unify the 155lb title.
Khabib had honored the memory of his father, coach, and mentor Abdulmanap, who died of Covid in July 2020.
Khabib, who officially retired from active competition with an undefeated 29-0 record last year, hasn’t felt the unique blend of emotions that comes with being a fighter since his final career bout against Justin Gaethje.
He said that strange mix of nervousness and excitement all fighters have felt at one time or another had returned.
“Today when I wake up I was nervous like I’m going to fight tonight,” he told MMA Junkie in advance of the fight card.
“I have the same feeling today when I wake up. I realized I’m not going to fight, I have a fighting show. It was a very nervous day, but right now I’m happy.”
The card was topped by another iconic figure from Russian MMA and one of the sport’s most grizzled veterans, Sergei Kharitonov, who mauled kickboxing legend Tyrone Spong in the headliner.
It was fitting, perhaps, that Kharitonov’s victory came by way of the same oppressive top control and ground and pound for which Khabib had become a master of throughout his run to the summit of the sport.
Elsewhere on the card, former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans ended a near four-year retirement to win a decision against Gabriel Checco in what was the American’s first win in the cage since he bested Chael Sonnen all the way back in 2013, ending the five-fight skid which hastened his decision to take an extended break from the sport after a knockout loss to Anthony Smith in 2018.
Another UFC veteran and one-time title challenger Ray Borg also impressed, shutting down the experienced Cody Gibson to take the judges’ nod on the scorecards.
Afterward, Borg made a point of thanking Khabib for his involvement.
“Khabib, thank you for me on your showman,” he said post-fight. “I couldn’t be happier to fight for you show. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my career and I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to come and do what I love.”
The Miami card was Khabib and Eagle FC’s latest step in expanding the organization outside of Russia, and various surrounding regions, to become the latest big-name player on the global MMA scene.
They have said that fighters from all four corners of the globe will take center stage at upcoming events as they look to grow and add further ballast to a company that has already drawn significant intrigue due to Khabib’s involvement.
However, Khabib was cautioned by the man who promoted his rise to the top of the sport, UFC boss Dana White, that his new role wasn’t an easy one – a lesson White said Khabib might well “learn the hard way“.
Khabib said that he intends to learn from White rather than reject his advice.
“Nothing (about promoting is) easy, honestly,” Khabib said.