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Khabib compares being UFC champion to being ‘held in a prison’

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Khabib Nurmagomedov compares being a professional athlete — particularly to the level of UFC champion — to a prison sentence.

Russian mixed martial artist and UFC champion Khabib Nurmagomedov arrives in Makhachkala after fight with Justin Gaethje Photo by Press Office of the Head of the \TASS via Getty Images

Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov, misses the competitive rush; however, he does not miss the shackles of being an athlete at the highest level.

Nurmagomedov (29-0) retired from professional mixed martial arts (MMA) following a second-round technical submission win over Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 on Oct. 24, 2021, at “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi. “The Eagle” compared the restraints of being a high-level athlete to that of a prison sentence in an interview on Monday.

“I am living the life of an ordinary person, not the one of a professional athlete,” Nurmagomedov said when speaking to UFC Russia (h/t MMA Fighting). “I think living the life of an athlete is somewhat close to being held in a prison. Because every day he has to do exactly the same thing — train, rest, then train again, then rest. It’s like living in the same mode, at the same pace, not slowing down.

“Once you slow down, you are no longer a champion,” he added. “So I have just released myself from this prison in a way.”

The addiction of competing is not one that Nurmagomedov can easily shake off.

“Well, I miss almost everything if I can say so,” he explained. “There are so many moments when I feel lack of competition or its spirit, you know. There are many things that I miss. Simply because I spent my entire life doing them. No, there was not a single moment when I had regrets or doubts about my decision. However, I miss this competition environment itself, training camps, losing weight, etc.

“Because it’s some sort of an addiction and you can’t get rid of it, it simply exists,” he added. “Sometimes you just want to enter the Octagon and kick ass, fight for five rounds straight and make it really tough. But life is life. Even if not now, then at some point in life, I’d have quit and said no to this sport anyway.”

It felt like UFC President, Dana White, tried everything in his power to elicit a 30th (and final fight) out of Nurmagomedov. “The Eagle” remained steadfast in his decision to retire following the death of his father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov (full details here).

“Only time will tell [if this was the right time to retire],” Nurmagomedov said. “It always does. Should have I or should have I not? We may endlessly speculate. Khabib had such a chance to fight with this guy or that guy but it’s a never-ending talk. There will always be new contenders, new champions. Much younger, much hungrier. They were before me and they will be after me.

“So you have to keep it in mind and leave this sport when the right time comes,” he added. “The wealthiest man is the self-sufficient one. If you have just the right amount of everything, you are at peace with your head and thoughts, then you are the wealthiest. Even if you don’t have all those millions, that posh life, if what you have is enough, then you will always be the wealthiest.”

Despite retiring as the king of arguably MMA’s most competitive division, in the sport’s biggest company, with a perfect record and victories over Gaethje, Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier, Rafael dos Anjos and more, Nurmagomedov wasn’t satisfied.

“Well of course in our sport, it’s the highest peak — to win the belt, to become the best fighter,” Nurmagomedov said. “I reached this top and you know, I didn’t feel much satisfaction to be honest. I’m sure many people think ‘wow’ and so on but I didn’t feel [some sort of thrill].

“I didn’t feel what I expected to feel,” he concluded. “Thought I would get more satisfaction in a way, but I didn’t.”