The 29-0 UFC great announced his retirement following Saturday night’s victory over Gathje, despite the allure of recording a 30th consecutive victory in Mixed Martial Arts in his next fight, because he made a promise to his mother not to fight again following the death of his father and trainer Abdulmanap earlier this year.
In the headline event at UFC 254, Khabib needed fewer than two rounds to put Gaethje to sleep, with the American falling to a perfectly-executed triangle one minute and 24 seconds into the second round. The victory triggered an outpouring of emotion from Khabib, and followed in his retirement from the UFC,
The Dagestani fighter vowed not to fight again without his father, who died due to health complications after contracting coronavirus in July, and that also appears to have had a significant impact on the outcome of the fight.
Addressing how Khabib secured his 29th straight win, former heavyweight UFC champion Cormier - an old stablemate of Khabib’s - revealed how he had discussed the ending of the fight with the lightweight champion in the days before the bout.
“He (Khabib) told me when he was watching interviews over the course of the week, he saw that Justin said he would never tap,” Cormier said on the DC & Helwani podcast.
“So when he was going to the submission, he said it was his dad's favourite submission, get into the mount position, go into the armbar and then the triangle.
“When he got there, he was going to do the armbar but had heard Justin all week say that he wouldn't tap and he didn't want to hurt him in front of his parents.
“So he went for the triangle and kind of put him to sleep.”
According to Cormier, Khabib feared that Gaethje would rather have risked breaking his arm than submitting to an armbar, and with parents Carolina and John Ray in attendance at the event on ‘Fight Island’, he did not want to put them through seeing such a ghastly injury.
In fact, Gaethje did submit to Khabib moments before passing out, though referee Jason Herzog missed the tap, but Khabib apparently had reservations about how much damage he should look to inflict on his opponent.
“I promise you, he actually told me that,” Cormier added. “He goes ‘I didn't wanna hurt him in front of his parents so I said if I put him in the triangle and if he goes to sleep, he'll go to sleep, get up and be fine’. That's exactly what he told me, crazy right?
“He didn't wanna break his arm because if Justin isn't gonna tap, you've got to break it and he didn't want to do that in front of his mom and dad.”
Khabib’s success was made even more impressive by the fact that he broke his foot in training for the bout, just 17 days before UFC 254, with an X-ray of his left foot showing a fracture in his fourth toe (the phalanges proximales).
“What this guy's been through, we're all lucky that we got to see him fight tonight,' added UFC president Dana White.
“And I'm hearing rumours of other things that I didn't know about that you guys will hear about when he comes out later. Apparently, he was in the hospital. He broke his foot. Three weeks ago.
“He has two broken toes and a bone in his foot that's broken, or something like that. That's what his corner was telling me. He is one of the toughest human beings on the planet and he's the number one pound-for-pound fighter in the world.”