Article by: Ali Abdullah
Every generation has its sports heroes, some of whom transcend the sports they are famous for and use their platform to do well that is far bigger than them. For a globally persecuted community, reviled and degraded at every turn by politicians and the mainstream media in the West and elsewhere, Muslims have often sought comfort and a sense of sharing in the glory of sports legends who share their faith – and have managed, despite the odds, to force the public consciousness to acknowledge them and their efforts and to recognize that they are clearly Muslims.
In today’s world, perhaps no other athlete represents the ideals of Islamic piety, humility, and being a master of one’s craft more than mixed martial arts legend Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov.
On 24th October 2020, he once again proved that he is the most dominant fighter to grace the cage after defeating top contender Justin Gaethje, bringing his undefeated record to 29-0. Now one step closer to fulfilling his father’s plan of crafting an unparalleled martial artist with a clean 30-0 record, he is an athlete all Muslims can admire both for his prowess and his behavior in and out of the cage. He is also the kind of champion his late father and trainer Abdul Manap Nurmagomedov would have been proud to say is his son.
Khabib, born in the mountainous and rugged climes of the Dagestan region of Russia, has been raised to be a warrior, and not simply just a prize-fighter. Throughout his entire career, his father Abdul Manap had been by his side, guiding him to success even when he was denied visas to corner his son’s UFC bouts in the United States.
Abdul Manap’s Islamic faith used to shine through in all his interviews, as his son would emulate, and he also clearly had faith in the training he gave his son, knowing he would reach the top.
Sadly, and as a result of the coronavirus pandemic that has ground the world to a standstill, Abdul Manap fell ill and died at the age of 57 in July. The fight was the first time that Khabib had to compete without the comfort a son feels by having his father’s guidance and wisdom to hand.
However, the lightweight champion showed his mettle and demonstrated that he had absorbed his late and great father’s lessons and would continue to honour his memory by achieving at the very highest levels. He proved to do so by establishing a sporting legacy inside and outside the cage. His father could not have been prouder.
The keys to Khabib’s success are not a secret. Every fighter who has ever fought against him knew well in advance what he was going to do, yet remained incapable of stopping him from executing Abdul Manap’s tried and tested formula of hard work, discipline, technical excellence, and spiritual conviction.
Khabib’s training regimen is legendarily rigorous, bringing together the sheer toughness Caucasians are renowned for, sustaining the technical excellence his father’s Sambo martial arts imparted upon him, as well as keeping himself mentally and spiritually strong by finding comfort and strength in Islam.
The Eagle has spent his entire life honoring his father’s mission, showing what he was capable of, and defeating the very best the world had to offer. He not only dominated the Combat Sambo world championships two years in a row in his early twenties but has also fought against some of the toughest fighters in the world in MMA competition. He became the lightweight champion in April 2018 after defeating “Raging” Al Iaquinta, a tough-as-leather New York brawler. He has since defended his title thrice with Gaethje as the latest to fall before him.
Notably, he defended his title once against disgraced superstar Connor McGregor who spent much of 2018 insulting his whole family only to be smashed by the Dagestani champion, and once in a more respectful but nevertheless decisive bout against Dustin Poirier in 2019.
Abdul Manap’s plan for Khabib was for him to at least reach a pristine of 30-0. By all accounts, it seems that the Dagestani is just one step away from fulfilling his father’s dream.
After the fight, Khabib talked to the media and announced his retirement. Khabib said that he promised his mother that this is going to be his first and last fight without his father and that he is never going to fight again. The world wanted to see 30-0 but Khabibs career has come to an end at 29-0.