Because he left such a strong impact on the lightweight division, it may come as a surprise to many Khabib Nurmagomedov fans that 'The Eagle' also had an impressive stint as a welterweight prior to his UFC debut. Nurmagomedov even became a welterweight tournament champion in a local promotion in Russia back in 2009.
Even more impressive is the fact that ten of these eleven wins came by way of stoppage. As a welterweight, Khabib Nurmagomedov won six fights by TKO and four fights by submission.
Khabib Nurmagomedov's career before the UFC
Khabib Nurmagomedov began his MMA career as a lightweight, competing in local promotions in Ukraine and Russia. After winning the Pankration Atrium Cup 1 tournament in 2008, Nurmagomedov decided to move up to the welterweight division.
In his first run as a 170-pounder, Khabib Nurmagomedov participated in the Tsumada Fighting Championship 3 tournament, and competed twice in one night. Nurmagomedov won both fights by TKO, and emerged as the tournament champion.
Khabib Nurmagomedov would return to lightweight for a single fight before returning to welterweight and starting a nine-fight winning streak.
Nurmagomedov's pre-UFC welterweight winning streak began in 2019 with a dominant unanimous decision win over Ali Bagov under the Golden Fist Russia banner.
Nurmagomedov returned to Ukraine for his next two bouts, competing for the M-1 promotion. He would stop Vitaly Ostroskiy and Alexander Afagonov - both by TKO - before rounding out the rest of his career outside the UFC with ProFC.
In his promotional debut with ProFC, Khabib Nurmagomedov needed just one round to submit Said Khalilov by kimura.
Khabib would run through Ashot Shaginyan in his next fight, winning by TKO in the first round. Khabib's next three victories would come by way of triangle choke submission, the same technique he would go on to use against Justin Gaethje in his final UFC appearance.
Perhaps Khabib Nurmagomedov's biggest test before joining the UFC however, was his fight against South American grappler Arymarcel Santos. Santos was the first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu master that Nurmagomedov faced in his professional career.
While Khabib had no trouble taking him down, Santos was constantly threatening with submission attempts off his back. Nurmagomedov kept patient and landed some well-placed ground and pound before the referee stopped the fight at the 3:33 mark of the opening round.
Khabib's fight against Santos was reminiscent of his encounter with Brazilian striker Edson Barboza, minus the TKO finish.
Khabib Nurmagomedov's adjustments to the UFC
Khabib Nurmagomedov may have gotten a submission win in his UFC debut, but that would just be one of two stoppages in his first six UFC fights. He would go on to win four of his next five fights by unanimous decision.
It is possible that Khabib's initial string of decision wins can be attributed to him adjusting to the 155-pound lightweight division, especially after a lengthy stint as a welterweight. With the additional weight needed to be cut in order to make 155-pounds, Khabib possibly lacked the power needed to finish fights by ground-and-pound.
This could also be the reason why 'The Eagle' found it difficult to cut down to 155-pounds early in his UFC career.
As his nutrition improved over the years however, it became easier for Khabib Nurmagomedov to meet the lightweight limit, and he began to earn more wins by stoppage.
While he had only four stoppages in his first ten UFC fights, Khabib Nurmagomedov capped off his career with three straight submission wins over Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier, and Justin Gaethje - all former lightweight titleholders.
Khabib Nurmagomedov’s return to the UFC
Following his retirement at the end of UFC 254, Khabib Nurmagomedov has stated on multiple occasions that he has no competitive desire left.
However, Khabib has also stated that he is a long-time fan of welterweight legend Georges St. Pierre, and there are rumblings of a possible super fight between the two stars at 170-pounds.
As we have already seen, Khabib Nurmagomedov is no stranger to the welterweight division. In addition to that, Khabib’s late father Abdulmanap always wanted him to retire with a record of 30-0.
With 'The Eagle' just one win shy of reaching a historic 30-0 record, a super fight between himself and Georges St-Pierre may not be out of the realm of possibility after all.Published 27 Dec 2020, 16:02 IST