UFC 254: A timeline in the career of Khabib Nurmagomedov

By Dean Zulkofske
Sep 7, 2019; Abu Dhabi, UAE; Khabib Nurmagomedov (red gloves) fights Dustin Poirier (blue gloves) during UFC 242 at The Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 7, 2019; Abu Dhabi, UAE; Khabib Nurmagomedov (red gloves) fights Dustin Poirier (blue gloves) during UFC 242 at The Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports /

Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov’s journey to UFC 254’s main event on Fight Island.

On Saturday night, UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov will put his title and undefeated 28-0 record on the line against UFC interim lightweight champion Justin Gaethje. Before Nurmagomedov attempts his third consecutive title defense at UFC 254, let’s take a look back at how Nurmagomedov soared up the 155-pound rankings.

How did Khabib Nurmagomedov earn the title he’ll defend at UFC 254?

Salad days, 2008-2010

Nurmagomedov began his professional career in smaller Russian and Ukrainian promotions, beginning first in the Combat Sambo Federation of Ukraine before hopping over to the Pankatrion Atrium Cup and the Tsumada Fighting Championship.

By his ninth professional fight, Nurmagomedov was fighting with M-1 Global as a 9-0 combatant.

Of those nine victories, three came by TKO, two came by submission, and four were won by unanimous decision.

Khabib stays active – 2011

In by far the most active year of his career, Nurmagomedov fought seven times. Once with M-1 Global in Kiev, Ukraine and six other times in ProFC’s welterweight division.

Nurmagomedov finished all seven fights at 170 pounds, needing a second round just once all year.

By the end of 2011, he held an astounding 16-0 professional record and was ready for a shot at the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

New blood in UFC’s 155-pound division – 2012-2013

After spending two years and nine fights at 170 pounds, Khabib returned to lightweight in his UFC debut against Kamal Shalorus.

Gathering five wins and improving his overall record to 21-0 over this two-year stretch, Nurmagomedov tallied wins over promotional veterans such as Gleison Tibau and Thiago Tavares.

Serious lightweight title contender – 2014-2017

With a string of wins over skilled 155-pound contenders like Michael Johnson, Edson Barboza, and former lightweight champion Rafael do Anjos, Nurmagomedov was making a name for himself.

Despite not competing at all in 2015, he won four fights and emerged as a new top lightweight title contender with a 25-0 record.

A new UFC champion, UFC 223 – April 7, 2018.

It wasn’t the way anyone drew it up, but Nurmagomedov finally fought for UFC gold after Tony Ferguson and Max Holloway were scratched from the main event in a rollercoaster of a fight-week.

Al Iaquinta joined him in the cage for an unlikely duel for the vacant lightweight title. Nurmagomedov won the bout via unanimous decision and began his journey as a UFC champion.

A global superstar is born at UFC 229: Oct. 26, 2018.

In the biggest event in UFC history, Nurmagomedov’s first title defense against former lightweight champion Conor McGregor turned Khabib Nurmagomedov into a household name.

If it wasn’t his elite-level grappling that got people talking, the post-fight melee from UFC 229’s main event certainly had the world’s attention.

Nevertheless, Nurmagomedov secured his first title defense and improved to 27-0.

The UFC’s lightweight king – UFC 242: Sep. 7, 2019

In his 28th professional fight, Nurmagomedov earned a resolute submission victory over then-interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier.

Following his second title defense, he exchanged shirts with his opponent, auctioned off the shirt, and sent the proceeds to Poirier’s charity the Good Fight Foundation.

The symbol of respect reminded fans around the world that his UFC 229 antics were purely emotion-driven and that he truly is a champion of class and honor.

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UFC 254 takes place on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, live from Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. Follow along with FanSided MMA, who is cageside for the event, for all your live news and highlights.