Since retiring from the sport and relinquishing the 155-pound title following an unbeaten 29-fight career in mixed martial arts, Khabib has maintained his presence in the sport through a successful transition to the role of coach — or “mentor,” if you ask the man himself.
And in perhaps his biggest moment since swapping the cage for the corner, Khabib’s long-touted lightweight successor Makhachev will challenge for UFC gold for the very first time this weekend when he meets former champion Charles Oliveira in Abu Dhabi.
Throughout the UFC 280 card, Khabib will appear in the corner of a number of his fighters, including Abubakar Nurmagomedov and Zubaira Tukhugov. His night will culminate in leading protégé Makhachev’s title challenge.
With the stakes in mind, “The Eagle” could be forgiven for having some nerves. And according to his own headlining man, Khabib is the most nervous of the entire Russian contingent in the UAE.
Makhachev: Khabib Is Nervous Because His “Brothers” Are Fighting
During a recent interview with TSN’s Aaron Bronsteter, Makhachev was asked whether or not Khabib becomes more nervous ahead of his fighters’ outings nowadays than he did for his own.
After confirming that to be the case, the #4-ranked lightweight recalled his experience in the corner with Khabib for teammate Tagir Ulanbekov’s defeat to Tim Elliott at UFC 272 this past March.
According to Makhachev, Khabib’s nerves derive from the fact he’s not just watching his pupils in action, he’s seeing his “brothers” competing inside the cage.
“I think so, because he’s nervous too much always,” Makhachev said. “I was (cornering) with him when Tagir (Ulanbekov) fought in the UFC. When he (didn’t) listen to us, (Khabib went) so crazy. He’s nervous too much. Because we’re not just teammates; he knows his brothers (are) fighting.”
Makhachev’s sentiments have also been shared by Khabib himself. When labeling himself as a mentor rather than a coach, the former lightweight king explained the connection he has to his compatriots owing to their history and years of training together.
With that in mind, a victory on Saturday night will no doubt feel extra sweet for Khabib, who has long pointed to Makhachev as a future champion at 155 pounds.
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