Is Khabib Nurmagomedov The GOAT? (Here’s Why NOT)

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The Eagle, Khabib, is often called the GOAT of mixed martial arts. Particularly in the history of the UFC. In this article, I’ll answer once and for all: Is Khabib Nurmagomedov the GOAT?

My opinion is this:

Khabib Nurmagomedov is not the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) in the UFC. While he has the perfect record at 29-0, he has not defended his belt enough times against the highest-quality opponents to claim the status of GOAT.

But keep reading this article if you want to hear the long answer because things aren’t necessarily what they seem.

Many pundits and fans in the MMA community have strong opinions and evidence to suggest that there are far superior fighters out there. Let’s take a look.

Reasons Why Khabib Is The GOAT

First, we will look at why Khabib could easily be considered the GOAT in UFC history.

We’re going to hype the Russian fighter before we tear him down with critique in the next section.

29-0 Undefeated Record

Let’s get apparent facts out of the way, Khabib retired aged just 33 years old with a glaring record of 29 wins and 0 losses.

Khabib is the only former UFC fighter that retired with an undefeated record.

There are plenty of upcoming and active UFC fighters aiming for that same status.

Khabib being inducted into the UFC hall of fame
Airotcivss, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Fighters like Umar Nurmagomedov, Bryce Mitchell, and Jack Shore had long undefeated runs thanks to a similar grappling pedigree. Only Umar currently is yet to be beaten.

Khabib’s unique Sambo-Jitsu style allowed him to stand with fighters on the feet long enough to either tire them out or force them to throw a wild punch and leave just enough room for him to shoot for their legs.

When Khabib got his opponents to the floor, he would wrap them up with his legs and maul at them like a bear. Or an Eagle. Whichever you fancy.

Most fighters spend considerable time training on the feet, improving their striking to become lethal and knock people out quickly.

Khabib never seemed to fight in that same way.

Sure, he could strike on the feet, but his strategy was always to keep them guessing by landing some punches and kicks to make them think there was a standup fight happening, and then BAM. You’re on your butt up against the fence.

It worked like a charm.

Only Ever Lost Two Rounds In A UFC Fight

In Khabib’s UFC career, he only ever lost two rounds, which is a pretty incredible accolade.

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Khabib Nurmagomedov
BattleBeetle, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Many popular fighters will have difficulties in specific rounds only to win in glory by overcoming the challenge they face.

But with Khabib, his fighting style and positioning were so detailed and analytical that it was almost like he knew what would be happening in each round of the fight.

He could move the fight in the positioning and direction he wanted. He could throw some wild hooks, or attack your body with kicks, to move his opponent around the octagon and into the situations he wanted.

The only rounds he ever lost were one to Conor McGregor in the most significant event of UFC’s history and one round in his final fight against Justin Gaethje.

Both Conor and Justin have better-striking talents than Khabib. This appeared to be the difference in the rounds Khabib lost.

But that didn’t matter a whole lot in the end. In classic Khabib fashion, he submitted them both.

Title Defenses Against 3 Top UFC Fighters

Khabib became the UFC Lightweight Champion at UFC 223 after beating Al Iaquinta by unanimous decision.

After that, The Eagle defended his Lightweight Championship Belt three times against some of the best UFC fighters in recent years before he retired.

Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor at UFC 229

This fight in 2018 was the hottest UFC event ever, with 2.4 million pay-per-view buys, and it continues to keep that record. The hype was electric as McGregor harassed Nurmagomedov endlessly leading up to the fight.

At that time, Conor’s specialty was getting into the heads of his opponents before the fight, and it usually worked.

But Khabib never seemed far fazed by Conor’s threats or insults. He just waited until the fight to show what he could do.

In this fight, Nurmagomedov and McGregor lit each other up with various strikes. It seemed to push both fighters to their limits.

Conor brought his elite striking to the table to test Khabib, and Khabib forced Conor to defend takedowns and stay alive in the heat of grappling.

This was the fight where Khabib lost his first-ever round. He lost round three only out of four.

Khabib came back into the fight in the fourth round and proved that his excellent cardio was too much for Conor to handle. He took him down and submitted him with a neck crank.

Nurmagomedov vs. Poirier at UFC 242

Over a year later from his fight with McGregor, Nurmagomedov faced Dustin Poirier to make his second title defense after just recently signing a new UFC contract.

The fight once again brought forth a striking challenge for Khabib as “The Diamond” (Poirier) kept bringing the heat with his heavy hands.

Dustin was mildly successful at keeping Khabib at bay with a couple of successful takedown defenses. Still, as usual, it proved too much to handle in the end.

Over and over again, we see fighters who don’t have the cardiovascular ability to withstand long grappling battles. And this is where Khabib thrives the most.

Khabib took Dustin down to the mats in the third round after gassing him out in the previous two, submitting him quickly with a rear-naked choke.

The main difference in this fight was the apparent respect between both fighters. Something that McGregor never quite learned.

Nurmagomedov vs. Gaethje at UFC 254

For Khabib’s final fight, he fought the unusual power striking style of Justin Gaethje. I remember watching this fight thinking that Justin could have the style that makes it difficult for Khabib.

Justin had a wrestling background since his college days, which made it hopeful that he would be able to better use his footwork and predict Khabib’s takedown movements with good defense.

Unfortunately, I, like many others, was very wrong. In the actual fight, Khabib was ready to throw down on the feet and swing wild shots, just like Gaethje’s style, until the ripe leg-diving opportunity presented itself.

Nurmagomedov lost the first round to Gaethje. The wild style that Gaethje brings often surprises most of his opponents as they get caught on the chin often with a wild swing under a weave.

Khabib wanted to face off with Justin in that first round to feel out his style. But when going back to his corner between rounds, it seemed clear that Khabib was ready to come out and put this fight to bed.

Khabib got an excellent takedown on Justin up against the fence, wrapped up his legs with his own, and crawled up his body to find and submit with a triangle choke.

The skill level of Khabib’s grappling is so good that he was even able to choose the kind of submission he wanted to make on Justin. He commented after the fight, instead of going for the armbar he had already in place, he chose to switch to the triangle choke not to injure Justin Gaethje.

That shows you the kind of treatment you’ll get when you show respect to The Eagle.

UFC Fighters & Legends Say So

Khabib Nurmagomedov is often considered the GOAT simply because many legends of the UFC and mixed martial arts Hall-Of-Famer describe him as such.

Daniel Cormier, a former champion for two belts at different weights and recent Hall-Of-Famer inductee, has repeatedly described Khabib as the GOAT (and himself).

DC might be biased because the two are previous teammates at American Kickboxing Academy. They’re also good friends who love to make jokes about each other.

But DC isn’t the only one to claim Khabib Nurmagomedov as the GOAT. Several more fighters, including ones beaten by Khabib, have referenced Khabib in the GOAT conversation.

These fighters have all spoken about Khabib as the GOAT:

  • Dustin Poirier
  • Sean O’Malley (alongside GSP)
  • Robert Whittaker (alongside GSP and Jon Jones)
  • Georges St-Pierre
  • Khabib Nurmagomedov puts himself on the level with the very best, including Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, Daniel Cormier, and Demetrious Johnson.

Another couple of names that come up often in the conversation is Jon Jones, and Georges St-Pierre, as GOATs.

Alright, that’s enough propping up the man. Let’s get into a few legitimate arguments for why Khabib is NOT the GOAT.

Reasons Why Khabib Is NOT The GOAT

I’ve covered plenty of good reasons why Khabib is the GOAT in the minds of many.

Khabib Nurmagomedov, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

But occasionally, the debate comes back up in groups and online communities to claim that Khabib is not deserving of the title of GOAT.

Outside The Top 10 For Most Wins In UFC Title Bouts

1Jon Jones15
2Georges St-Pierre13
3Demetrious Johnson12
4Anderson Silva11
4Amanda Nunes11
5Matt Hughes9
6Randy Couture8
6Jose Aldo8
6Valentina Shevchenko8
6Israel Adesanya8
Updated in October 2023

One of the big reasons that many refuse to accept Khabib Nurmagomedov as the GOAT is because although he had a 29-0 fight record, he didn’t defend his title enough times to appear in the top ten of most wins in UFC title bouts.

The table above ranks the top fighters who had UFC fights for a belt, whether to win it or defend it.

On that list, you can see that Jon Jones hits the top of the list with having title fights fifteen times and winning them all and losing none.

Many people put an asterisk against Jon Jones’ name on this list because of his persistent issues with drug violations, which resulted in him having to vacate his title.

Next on the list, Georges St-Pierre, is hard to argue with his appearance as GSP has never had any severe drug or PED violations with the UFC or fight commissions and has put his belt on the line over many years. Out of fifteen title fights, he won thirteen and only lost two.

GSP is closely followed by Demetrious Johnson, with twelve wins and only two losses.

The important thing here is that Khabib is nowhere to be seen in this top ten.

In the Lightweight division, Jose Aldo’s name comes up often as someone who deserves the GOAT status above Khabib. Jose has fought in title fights many times, having won eight and lost three. So in effect, he has risked more than Khabib and is still fighting for another title shot today.

Khabib Fights Were Against “Nobodies”

Another claim to remove Khabib’s GOAT status is that many will say he hasn’t actually proven himself against the best of the best.

Khabib won his belt in a unification match against Al Iaquinta and then defended it against three strong fighters: Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier, and Justin Gaethje.

But out of the three, only McGregor really challenged Khabib enough to make the fight last past the first three rounds. Khabib made pretty short and easy work of Poirier and Gaethje with elite grappling ability.

Before those three fights, Khabib faced a long list of “nobodies” on his rise to the top. Look at the five fights before Al Iaquinta:

  • Edson Barbosa: Certainly not a bad fighter, but he has a struggling record. He’s beaten plenty of decent fighters, but he is defeated when it comes to a big fight that could move him into a higher bracket. For example, against Tony Ferguson, Khabib, Kevin Lee, Justin Gaethje, etc.
  • Michael Johnson: He’s pretty much a legend of the UFC, but he has a long list of losses that he’s almost reaching a 1:1 win:loss ratio.
  • Darrell Horcher: Entered into the UFC with his first fight against Khabib and lost and lost 3/4 fights in the UFC before being released.
  • Rafael Dos Anjos: Fair enough, not a bad fighter. Probably a good matchup at the time.
  • Pat Healy: His second fight (the first was No Contest) was for him to be put up against Khabib, which he lost and lost four in succession before being released by the UFC. Certainly wasn’t at the level of the UFC.

Khabib doesn’t have the kind of fights on his record that dazzle. Many of them were well-chosen picks as Khabib often went up against strikers and used his grappling to outmaneuver, take them down to the ground, and spend most of the rest of the fight there until the opponent’s exhaustion kicked in.

There is quite a big difference if you compare the quality level to someone like Jon Jones’ history of fights.

Jon “Bones” Jones fought in many title fights on this list:

  • Dominick Reyes
  • Thiago Santos
  • Anthony Smith
  • Alexander Gustafsson
  • Daniel Cormier
  • Ovince St. Preux
  • Glover Teixeira
  • Chael Sonnen
  • Vitor Belfort
  • Rashad Evans

And there are plenty more names like it. It’s a long list of high-level fighters often at their primes when challenging JJ.

Final say on Khabib’s GOAT status

So is Khabib Nurmagomedov the GOAT?

That entirely depends on your perspective. Khabib could easily be considered the GOAT if you think that having a lossless record is the best proof of being the greatest of all time.

If you think that a fighter needs to have put together a higher quality of opponents and raise the number of title defenses, then it would be hard to accept Khabib as the GOAT. It would more likely go to Jon Jones or Georges St-Pierre.

My personal opinion?

Khabib Nurmagomedov is one of the greatest fighters of all time, but he can’t be considered the GOAT.

Khabib has fought fighters that were very well fit for his fighting style. They couldn’t match him on grappling and often didn’t stand a chance.

He has rarely had a real challenge in his MMA career, and he would only be able to find that challenge by defending the title more times than he did.

For these reasons, Khabib is not the GOAT.

4 thoughts on “Is Khabib Nurmagomedov The GOAT? (Here’s Why NOT)”

    • Haha thanks for commenting. I think many would agree and argue that he hasn’t fought the best of the best, whereas others have done so in their careers consistently.

  1. Khabib is the GOAT. He is just so good that nobody is really on his level. Anybody can be beat in any given night it only takes one good hit. Khabib made really good fighters look ordinary and nobody has ever done that. Jon Jones can’t be the GOAT, he is a proven cheater.

    • Did you see recent expansion on PED allowances which if were the same back when Jones was first banned for “cheating”, it would have just been normal use. So then, while he did break the rules at that time, how much of a massive advantage did he actually have? Possibly, he’s just better than them all.

      And with the names he has fought, and title defenses, compared to Khabib’s list of nobodies (who have terrible records for a lot of them)… I still think I got to disagree with you, Val! Appreciate you commenting.


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