Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
In UFC legend Georges St-Pierre’s eyes, attempting to determine who is the greatest fighter of all-time is a debate that has no end.
But he sees Khabib Nurmagomedov as a name that easily ranks among the best ever.
That call was made even easier after Nurmagomedov’s latest performance, a second-round submission win over Justin Gaethje in the lightweight championship main event of UFC 254 on Saturday that “GSP” called “masterful.” Immediately afterwards, Nurmagomedov announced he was ending his 12-year MMA career with an unblemished 29-0 record and three successful defenses of his UFC title.
Nurmagomedov’s standing among the immortals has been the subject of debate for years, with his perfect record and lopsided victories often being brought up as evidence of his GOAT status. St-Pierre—who retired in 2017 with a 26-2 record and having won championships in two divisions—is also on the short list when it comes to these discussions and he agrees that Nurmagomedov is as good as anyone even if he thinks it’s futile to try and make an ultimate conclusion.
“There’s many guys that have been the greatest fighter of all-time,” St-Pierre said in an interview with ESPN. “It’s an impossible thing to be, the greatest fighter of all-time. We all have moments that we shine, that we share that greatest of all-time. Khabib, tonight, what we saw in his performance was the greatest of all-time. Anderson Silva when he knocked out Vitor Belfort was the greatest of all-time. Jon Jones when he beat Daniel Cormier or [Alexander] Gustafsson also, was the greatest of all-time. [Israel] Adesanya, when he beat Paulo Costa last time, it was the greatest of all-time. Everybody, B.J. Penn had his moment when he beat Matt Hughes, everybody has their own moment, their lights, their moment that they shine, but like everything in life everything has a beginning and everything has an end.
“We all have our window of being the greatest of all-time. Everybody that has a flawless performance has that title, greatest of all-time, but it’s just a fugazi. It’s something that appears and will disappear in a second. When your performance is over, it disappears, because that moment will never happen again. The universe has changed and it’s just a fugazi. I don’t believe in this debate. It’s a silly way to look at things in a way. There’s many guys that can claim to be the greatest of all-time and for sure Khabib is one of them, 100 percent, especially after what he had done tonight.”
With Nurmagomedov and St-Pierre at the front of every GOAT conversation, it makes sense that the two have been tied to a dream bout for the past couple of years, with both publicly expressing their interest in locking horns. According to St-Pierre, the negotiations never advanced to any official stages, and he’s at peace with the fact that the bout is likely to remain a hypothetical.
He certainly has no interest in asking Nurmagomedov to stick around, especially with Nurmagomedov’s emotional exit tied to the recent passing of his father and coach, Abdulmanap. Having gone out on his own terms himself, St-Pierre approves of how Nurmagomedov chose to retire.
“I’m glad for him,” St-Pierre said. “In a way I always feel sad when I see an athlete taking too many fights. When I see a champion—I don’t want to mention any names, but we all know what we can talk about here—taking too many fights and retiring and having very bad performances and affecting their well-being and stuff like that, that’s something I really don’t wish to someone.
“Khabib did an amazing decision, I think. Like everything in life, everything has a beginning and has an end. The life of a professional athlete, even an elite athlete has a window. If we fight past that window, that’s when the problems start to arrive and appear.”
St-Pierre repeatedly used the word “perfect” to describe both Nurmagomedov’s performance and how his career played out. Not only did Nurmagomedov go unbeaten, he became a mainstream star during his feud with Conor McGregor, which led to a title fight at UFC 229 that broke the company’s pay-per-view records.
A hero in his native Russia and a star worldwide, it remains to be seen whether Nurmagomedov, 32, will choose to stay in the spotlight, slide quietly into private life, or find a balance between the two as St-Pierre seems to have done. Whichever way he goes, St-Pierre believes Nurmagomedov is in complete control of what happens next.
“What a great way to finish a career,” St-Pierre said. “Now the doors are all open for him. He finished on top, his stock is at its pinnacle. Now he can do whatever he wants. Sponsorship, publicity, open a school if he wants, acting, whatever he wants to do. The possibilities are endless. What a great role model. What a great way to finish a career.
“It was just an incredible journey and a lot of fighters in our sport have a tendency to finish too late their career, so they’re stuck going down and then it closes doors for many opportunities that a lot of elite athletes could have as an after-career. Khabib has a choice now. He’s a perfect role model for the community.”
Watch St-Pierre’s full post-UFC 254 interview with ESPN below: