While we may not even be two weeks into 2023, the new year certainly hasn’t been short of major talking points. One of the most prevalent surrounds the MMA status of the great Khabib.
The Russian standout retired in 2020, culminating his unbeaten career with a third successful defense of the 155-pound UFC title. Since then, “The Eagle” has maintained a prominent presence in the sport through his own fight promotion and coaching of a number of Dagestani fighters.
That includes Makhachev, who was long pointed to as the eventual successor to Khabib’s reign, something that came to fruition last year when the 31-year-old dominated Charles Oliveira at UFC 280 to ascend to the lightweight mountaintop.
But it appears Khabib won’t have a major presence during his protégé’s reign.
Recent reports revealed that the GOAT contender is planning to step away from his MMA duties, with the latest update noting that Khabib’s departure will leave Makhachev without “The Eagle” in his corner at UFC 284 next month.
Given the magnitude of Makhachev’s first title defense, which will see him look to end the 22-fight winning streak of UFC Featherweight Champion Alexander Volkanovski in enemy territory, many have questioned whether Khabib’s exit will be a challenge for the newly crowned champ.
Sonnen Ponders Proximity Of Khabib’s MMA Exit To Makhachev Defense
During a recent video uploaded to his YouTube channel, Chael Sonnen gave his take on the timing of Khabib’s decision, as well as the effect it may have on the reigning lightweight king.
The former middleweight and light heavyweight title contender spoke about the questions that will now be asked of Makhachev in regard to his ability to continue his dominance without Khabib close by.
“Based on some of the statements, ‘Khabib wants to slow down and wants to be with his family,’ okay, we all understand that. There’s not gonna be any argument here. There’s not gonna be any kind of a pushback,” Sonnen said. “But we do have a piece of business still floating out there and it’s known as Perth. Islam Makhachev taking on a world champion… There’s some business left unattended. What will that mean?
While he noted that the answers to his queries will remain unknown until UFC 284, he did describe the challenge that losing a coach and mentor will present so close to the ‘biggest match’ of Makhachev’s career.
“I cannot realistically imagine a scenario where Islam, in is career, goes into a bigger match,” Sonnen noted. “These matches at this level, you’re talking about a game of inches. Who got more sleep the night before? They’re this close. Who warmed up appropriately? This feels to me like one heck of a matzah ball that just got sat down, that your trainer, mentor, and coach is not going to be training, mentoring, or coaching you. It feels like a big deal.”
“The American Gangster” also drew comparisons between Makhachev’s current scenario and the one that Khabib faced following the passing of his father in 2020. And having seen “The Eagle” complete his obligations by submitting Justin Gaethje and retire, Sonnen speculated on whether there’s a chance Makhachev could do the same.
“The way that Khabib dealt with that (absence of Abdulmanap),” Sonnen recalled. “‘I have an obligation, I have already committed to something. I’m gonna see that through, and as soon as I do, I’m done.’ Is that how Islam feels? Has Islam got an obligation, he’s gonna go out there and see it through, and when that match is over… It’s big speculation by me. But I’m asking the question.
“Khabib got put in this exact same spot, and he saw it through, and he said goodbye. Islam is now in a very similar situation. How he’s going to react and how’s he going to respond? It’s of interest. Time will tell,” Sonnen concluded.
While it may have come to an end, Khabib’s mentorship of Makhachev certainly paid off. If he is to depart the industry entirely, he’ll be doing so with his man on the throne, and favored to remain there for the foreseeable future.
Do you think Khabib Nurmagomedov’s reported absence will affect Islam Makhachev at UFC 284?
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