Khabib Nurmagomedov's coach opens up about how The Eagle overcame hospitalization and broken toe to defeat Justin Gaethje at UFC 254

Khabib Nurmagomedov
Khabib Nurmagomedov

Khabib Nurmagomedov’s head coach Javier Mendez shared how the UFC Lightweight Champion had to endure hospitalization and a broken toe, among other things, during the lead-up to the Justin Gaethje fight at UFC 254. 

Mendez, who trains Nurmagomedov and a host of other UFC champions at the famed American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California, called this most recent training camp their worst with “The Eagle”. 

“We had the worst luck ever for this camp, it’s incredible how bad it was,” Mendez shared on an episode of Submission Radio.
“But at the end of the day, every camp has problems, and we had our share in this one, but he was ready mentally to go, and physically to go. Not a hundred percent physically, but he was ready, he was as ready as you can be, when you think about the whole thing.”

Prior to camp, Khabib Nurmagomedov was already going through some tough times, especially after the tragic passing of his father and coach Abdulmanap, who succumbed due to complications from the COVID-19 virus back in July. 

Once Khabib Nurmagomedov arrived in the United States for the camp, things continued to go south. As it turns out, the unbeaten Russian had a case of the mumps, which delayed his training for a couple of weeks. 

“When he got here on September 11th, he had the mumps, so it took him off two weeks of training,” Mendez said.
“He got the mumps I guess a day before his father’s event in Russia, so he came here with the mumps, tried training a couple of days, really light,”

Mendez added that it got so bad that Khabib Nurmagomedov needed to be hospitalized for three days. 

“He got so sick he had to be hospitalized, so he was in the hospital for three days. He comes out, and I’m already sh***ing, man, I’m going ‘Oh man, we’re fighting such a great warrior like Justin and we’re already starting off on the bad foot, this really sucks.’”

Once Khabib Nurmagomedov was healthy enough to return to training, he went through some sparring sessions, which ultimately led to yet another setback - a broken toe. 

“We had one sparring session and he looked okay, not like how I wanted him to look, but he looked okay. The second sparring session, he was looking great, and then all of a sudden, midway in the second round, boom, he stops,” Mendez detailed.
“I go ‘What the heck happened?’ He broke his frickin’ toe, and I’m like ‘Oh great, broken toe.’ Now we have to wait more time for him to heal before we can start training again, so that really jacked everything up.”

Through it all, however, Khabib Nurmagomedov maintained his championship mentality. This gave Mendez the confidence and the belief that they would be able to come out on top. 

“One thing that he said, six days out before the event, he said ‘Coach, my toe may be broken, but my mind is not.’ And we worked on that stuff forever, from his father, to me,” Mendez said.
“So when he said that ‘my mind is not’, I already knew that we’re winning this fight, no matter what.” 

At UFC 254, Khabib Nurmagomedov started out slow, but eventually found his stride and ended up submitting Gaethje with a triangle choke in the second round. He successfully defended the UFC Lightweight Championship and improved his record to a spotless 29-0

After the fight, an emotional Khabib Nurmagomedov announced his retirement from the sport of MMA. 

Had Khabib Nurmagomedov lost the bout, Mendez says that none of these stories would have come out, as they would look like excuses. Fortunately for Team Khabib, the champ looked as dominant as ever, and these stories are now testaments to the will and the fortitude that “The Eagle” possesses. 

Coach says Khabib Nurmagomedov was emotional before Gaethje bout because of late father's absence

After submitting Justin Gaethje at UFC 254, the usually stoic Khabib Nurmagomedov could not help but let out some emotion as he was once again successful in defending the UFC Lightweight Championship. 

According to Mendez, Khabib Nurmagomedov was also emotional prior to the bout because of the absence of his father Abdulmanap.

“In my mind, I was teeter-tottering, back and forth, am I gonna get him the way I need him? At the very very end, I felt confident, but there was a time there when I was going ‘Oh, okay, this is a little different.’ Not too different, but a little bit,” said Mendez. 
“As a coach, you notice your fighters’ antics, and what they do and what they don’t do, and this was a little bit different than the last time, but I understood why, I knew why. His father, his father was the one thing that was missing."
"Even though his father wasn’t there for the vast majority of the UFC events, I was, it doesn’t matter. His father was still there in his ears, he was still only there, within a phone call, and this time he wasn’t.” 

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Edited by Sai Krishna
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