The biggest Ultimate Fighting Championship bout of the year pitted Khabib Nurmagomedov against Justin Gaethje for the 155-pound championship, and Nurmagomedov won on Saturday night on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi without paying spectators present.
After the bout, Nurmagomedov abruptly announced his retirement from the sport.
Three days before headlining U.F.C. 254 in Abu Dhabi, the main attraction, Khabib Nurmagomedov, told reporters he planned to retire as the undefeated, undisputed U.F.C. lightweight champion.
He seemed to mean he’d make that move eventually.
It turns out he intended to do it immediately.
He needed less than two rounds on Saturday night to dispatch a hard-punching American challenger, Justin Gaethje, in the main event of a fight card that the U.F.C. expected to threaten pay-per-view records in terms of viewership.
Nurmagomedov’s win unified the U.F.C.’s lightweight title, solidified his place as the organization’s top fighter, and was his first win after the death of his father and trainer, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov.
After his victory, Nurmagomedov took the microphone during a post-fight interview and said he was leaving the sport.
“No way I’m going to come here without my father,” he said.
Nurmagomedov’s emphatic win over Gaethje was the in-competition high-point of a tumultuous 2020 for mixed martial arts.
He started the year slated to face Tony Ferguson in April at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, but the card was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic and the U.F.C. moved it eventually to Jacksonville, Fla. With Nurmagomedov unable to return to the United States from Russia because of pandemic travel restrictions, Gaethje replaced him as Ferguson’s opponent, then pounded out a bloody, one-sided, five-round technical knockout win.
Then in July, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov died of Covid-19 complications.
Still, Nurmagomedov agreed to face Gaethje in a tantalizing matchup of styles. Nurmagomedov is a relentless wrestler who is also adept with punches and kicks, while Gaethje’s high-impact striking earned him the nickname “The Highlight.”
After a cautious first minute in their fight, Nurmagomedov applied pressure, absorbing heavy blows from Gaethje as the price of wading close enough to grab his opponent. Gaethje retreated, but also unloaded with full power, hoping to give himself space to operate. Near the end of the first round, Nurmagomedov dragged Gaethje to the ground.
In the second, Gaethje landed a hard kick to Nurmagomedov’s thigh. When he tried another, Nurmagomedov grabbed his foot and mauled Gaethje. He wrapped himself around the challenger and eventually knotted his legs around Gaethje’s neck, locking him in a triangle choke that he couldn’t escape. Gaethje submitted barely two minutes into the round.
The win earned Nurmagomedov a cash bonus for the best performance of the night, and afterward he laid his gloves on the canvas and explained that he and his mother agreed he should retire.
“I promised her.