The burden of his father Abdulmanap Nurumagomedov passing away from Covid complications earlier in the year clearly weighed heavily on Khabib Nurmagomedov ahead of his UFC 254 lightweight title fight with Justin Gaethje on Saturday night, but it’s now emerged that he had to endure even more turmoil in the final weeks of his training camp than anyone realized.
According to Khabib’s long-time American Kickboxing Academy coach Javier Mendez, the superstar was actually in hospital just last month due to a viral infection.
“It took him out of two weeks of training,” Mendez told Submission Radio. “And he got the mumps, I guess, the day before his father’s event in Russia. So, he came here with the mumps, and he tried training a couple of days really light. But then he got so sick; he had to be hospitalized. So, he was in the hospital for three days. He comes out, and I’m like going, I’m really (expletive), man. I’m going, ‘Oh man, we’re fighting such a great warrior like Justin, and we’re already starting off on a bad foot.’ And I go, ‘This really sucks.’”
Now behind schedule with his training camp, Khabib got back to training afterwards, only to suffer yet another setback due to a training room injury.
“So, he starts training really light one week, and then the second week we had to get some sparring in, because without sparring you don’t know where you’re at,” Mendez said. “So, we have one sparring session. He looked OK. Not how I wanted him to look, but he looked okay. And the second sparring session he was looking great, and all of a sudden midway in the second round, boom, he stops. I go, ‘What the heck happened?’ Broke his freakin’ 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. But at the end of the day, like I said, we all have things that happen in camp. This was just one of our worst for him. And the one thing he said like six days out before the event, he said, ‘Coach, my toe may be broken, but my mind is not.’ And we worked on stuff like that forever from his father. To me, when he said that ‘my mind is not (broken),’ we knew that we’re winning this fight no matter what. And in all honesty, these last sparring sessions, he looked fantastic.”
With all that in mind it’s remarkable that ‘The Eagle’ looked as good as he did on Saturday night as he walked down the normally unflappable Justin Gaethje on the feet and then took him down in the second round to finish with a triangle choke submission.
It was a memorable performance and a fitting tribute to his late father, and even more-so now that the full story behind it has been told.