Khabib Nurmagomedov (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Khabib Nurmagomedov: The G.O.A.T.?

October turned out to be an era-defining month for the world of martial arts. Despite the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and all the difficulties associated with organizing events at this difficult time, the matchmakers did their job. The month thundered with the closing of two eras at once. While boxing great Vasyl Lomachenko faded and lost all his titles in the biggest battle of his life against Teófimo López, so brightly did MMA lightweight great Khabib Nurmagomedov fold his gloves.

Nurmagomedov has proven that he is the greatest fighter in MMA history. For those who understand this sport, it is obvious.

In the history of MMA, which formed as a separate sport in the mid-1990s, there are only a few fighters on par with Nurmagomedov and his perfect record of 29-0. Let’s remember that Nurmagomedov has repeatedly stated that he would retire from the sport when he reached a mark of 30-0. Everyone understands that if Khabib had continued his career after his victory over Gaethje, there would have been only two options for that final fight: a McGregor rematch or another attempt at a fight with Tony Ferguson.


However, even after the UFC put Nurmagomedov in first place in the pound-for-pound rankings, many people still believe that he is not worthy of such accolades. Well, let’s take a closer look at the rest of the candidates.

Royce Gracie (15-2-3)

The Brazilian can perhaps be called the best fighter of the 90s, but three draws and two knockout losses leave Gracie no chance to be called the best in history. If Gracie had ended up at 11-0-1 after UFC 5 and called it a career, then maybe he could be considered the greatest. He submitted guys who were more than 60 pounds heavier than him. After a draw in a 36-minute fight against Ken Shamrock, retirement seemed logical. However, after five years, he returned and spoiled his legacy by performing poorly in Japan and in a return against Matt Hughes at UFC 60.

Fedor Emelianenko (39-6)

The legendary Pride champion is undoubtedly the best fighter of the 2000s, but he made the same mistake as Gracie. Fedor destroyed everyone in the ring, but he did not do so well in the cage. Fabricio Werdum’s gorgeous triangle served as the moment when Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brought sambo back to the ground. “The Last Emperor” still continues to compete, but with fluctuating levels of success. And to those who shout about the discount for age, let them remember at what age boxer Bernard Hopkins won his last IBF belt.

Anderson Silva (34-10)

Seriously? With such a record? Silva had long been the dominant champion, but the first time he lost was his third pro fight. Compared with the achievements of other athletes on this list, Silva simply doesn’t hold up.

Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson (30-3-1)

One of the most entertaining UFC fighters, Mighty Mouse is definitely among the top five of all time, regardless of weight. Despite his controversial loss to Henry Cejudo, Johnson did not hang up his gloves when his five years of championship dominance came to an end. Instead, he successfully continues to compete in Asia’s ONE Championship organization. Johnson won three fights last year and became the ONE champ. However, Mighty Mouse didn’t win the UFC belt on his first try, so he can’t be considered the greatest.

Henry Cejudo (16-2)

The real glory for the 2008 Olympic champion came two years ago, when he won his rematch against the aforementioned Mighty Mouse. Although the victory was not convincing, he fully seized the chance and hyped in the best traditions of Conor McGregor. With provocative trash talk and a dominant performance against T.J. Dillashaw, Cejudo raised himself to the ranks of a superstar. In his next fight, Cejudo knocked out Marlon Moraes and became a simultaneous two-division champion. However, after the first defense of his new title, Cejudo announced his retirement from the sport. Age 32 is way too early to retire. And where Nurmagomedov’s motives were dramatic and understandable, Cejudo’s retirement caused a wave of misunderstanding. Now there are talks about a return fight against Alex Volkanovski. Well, if Cejudo comes back and takes the featherweight belt from the Australian, it would make him the first-ever fighter to become a UFC champion across three weight classes.

Jon Jones (26-1)

When Nurmagomedov first signed with the UFC, Jones was already a star. We could even go as far as to say that Jones is one of the stars who brought UFC to the level of boxing. However, McGregor and Khabib raised the UFC even higher. Jones is a sad example of a nasty genius with whom a scandalous reputation played a cruel joke. People simply do not like him. Nurmagomedov sells better and makes more money. Khabib also never got caught doping and did not break the rules. Even if Jones takes the heavyweight belt, he will just repeat an achievement already accomplished by Daniel Cormier. Jones is a great fighter, but a filthy athlete. He’s to MMA what Lance Armstrong is to cycling.

Israel Adesanya (15-0)

“The Hypetrain,” as Adesanya calls himself, burst into the UFC mercilessly. Over the course of two years, he moved from the preliminary card to dominant champion. Adesanya is doing very well. He’s confident and now aims to take the belt in light-heavyweight division. If Adesanya manages to beat Jan Błachowicz, then Jones himself will probably return for his belt for such a big fight. However, for now, Jones is aiming for heavyweight, and Adesanya don’t have enough fights to claim legend status.

Georges St-Pierre (26-2)

It gets more interesting here. GSP is perhaps Khabib’s most coveted rival. Nurmagomedov cannot be considered the greatest until he beats St-Pierre. And to do so, Khabib would have had to move up a weight class, which he never intended to do. GSP has repeatedly said that he is ready to make 155 pounds, but it was just a PR move. Everyone understood that after four years of inactivity and a fight at middleweight, even a return to his native welterweight division would be a challenge for the Canadian. St-Pierre is a champion in two weight categories. With his conquest at middleweight, GSP, like no one else on this list, can make a legitimate claim for GOAT status. However, he did suffer two defeats. He had fewer fights than Nurmagomedov, but only six of those contests took place outside the Octagon. So, in terms of performances in the UFC, the Canadian is significantly ahead of the Dagestani. Their fight will never happen, either, so GSP will remain the best in the eyes of many.