He talked about family. He talked about charity. He talked about respect, and he talked about gratitude. He talked in Russian, in English and even some Arabic, yet the language Khabib Nurmagomedov is most fluent in can’t be spoken.
Violence is the dialect Khabib knows best and during his undefeated, undisputed MMA career, it’s a language no challenger has been to able to understand.
Perhaps the most jarring face Dustin Poirier wore on Saturday night wasn’t the emotional mask which was slipped on post-fight, but rather the look of complete confusion and bewilderment whenever ragged to the mat.
The American challenger cast several glances to his corner in the hope they could translate and help him overcome the language barrier.
But there is and so far has been no solution to understanding Khabib. The man has been wrestling since he was a small boy and there is no preparing for someone so versed in the art of grappling for decades.
We all know the tale of Khabib wrestling bears, and at this point, it might take that rematch to see him finally defeated.
Indeed, the lightweight division is both the most stacked and shallow at the same time. Right now, there is legitimately only one fighter at 155lbs who can feasibly make it 28-1 for Khabib and that is Tony Ferguson.
Despite Conor McGregor’s best attempts to land a left-hand on the spotlight and turn it towards him through the medium of social media, the Irishman is irrelevant where the lightweight title narrative is concerned.
There may now be greater credit given to the one round he took off Khabib last year, the only one the Dagestan-native has lost in his career.
But he was still ‘smeshed’, like all the rest, and despite a top-10 ranking which includes killers in Paul Felder, Anthony Pettis, Kevin Lee, Edson Barboza, Al Iaquinta, Justin Gaethje, Donald Cerrone, McGregor and Poirier, if Ferguson is defeated next up, the division is virtually dead.
Khabib is the Bane of the lightweights. Poirier thought pressure was his ally, that’s why they call him the diamond, right? Yet he was merely adopted by it, Khabib was born in it, moulded by it.
They came to see one man and left having witnessed an indestructible freak of nature.
This may seem like hyperbole, as if creative licence is running wild, but then watch Khabib up close, witness the piercing speed of his takedowns, the ability to envelop opponents like a python and the way he just siphons the life out of his opponents to render them inanimate, slowly entering darkness, twitching and clinging for air, and it’s hard not to get carried away.
If those watching on felt like they were breathing through a straw, such was the thickness of the air due to the humid atmosphere, then one can only dare imagine what it must have been like for Poirier when Khabib wrapped up the rear-naked choke in the third round.
However, there can be praise for Poirier, although there always seems to be for Khabib’s opponents given any sight of light is examined to prove the champion is mortal.
In the second round he landed clean with a right-hand and went on the charge, pushing Khabib onto the backfoot and on the run.
Predictably, he was taken down, but when that happened in the third stanza, Poirier slapped on a guillotine choke and it appeared tight.
Khabib even admitted post-fight it was “close” to putting him away. It didn’t, he reversed then earned the 28th straight win of his career and a second successful defence of the lightweight title.
The choke saw him submit another body of work to suggest he is the pound-for-pound No1 in the sport. There will also be debates which centre on Khabib’s standing as the most dominant fighter MMA has ever seen.
But beneath all the dominance is respect. One touching moment after the violence had dissipated into the steamy atmosphere was with Khabib and Poirier donning each other’s signature shirts as the champion offered to sell the American’s tee to help raise funds his charity, The Good Fight Foundation.
And while the narrative shifts toward Khabib’s standing from a fighting perspective, what is undeniable now is that he is one of the most important Muslim athletes on the planet.
In a world which has seen Islamophobia spread across all four corners, having a role model Muslim like Khabib in the corner is empowering.
When he talked post-fight about his family, charity, respect and gratitude, it showed that while MMA is so obviously brutal, through athletes like Khabib it can be a vehicle to deliver the right messages as well.
The most clear one of all, however, is that no other lightweight comes close to him.
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