UFC 254(ABU DHABI): Unbeaten lightweight champion dominant Khabib Nurmagomedov retired from mixed martial arts after defeating Justin Gaethje with a triangle choke early in the next round at UFC 254 on Saturday night.

Nurmagomedov (29-0) made the statement immediately after he finished his first battle since the passing of his father and lifelong coach Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov in July. He needed a heart problem exacerbated by COVID-19, and also his son was overcome with tears at the cage moments after choking Gaethje unconscious 1:34 into the next round of his third UFC title defense.”That is my last fight,” Nurmagomedov said. “

There’s no way I will be back without my dad. I spoke to my mom. She won’t know how I fight without daddy, but I assured it is going to be my last fight, and when I give my word, I must follow it.

“The 32-year-old Nurmagomedov was busy with strikes and with grappling against Gaethje (22-3), the harmful brawler who had knocked out four consecutive elite opponents while winning the UFC’s interim lightweight name.”

After spending the first round mostly trading punches and kicks with the competitive Gaethje, Nurmagomedov used his unparalleled wrestling abilities to shoot down Gaethje early in the next round and then worked into place for the finishing choke.

Gaethje seemed to tap out twice before the referee discovered and stopped the bout, by that time Gaethje was unconscious. He bounced up fast and shared a moment of mutual respect with the dominant Russian champion.

“I understand he was in a bad place, but whether he was not, he did exactly what he needed to do,” Gaethje said. “I know his father is so proud.”

Also at UFC 254, former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker made his case for another title shot using a strong unanimous decision over fellow rival Jared Cannonier in the penultimate bout on Fight Island.

Nurmagomedov’s first fight in 13 months would be an appropriate farewell for one of the most energetic competitions lately in MMA history. The Dagestan-born grappling pro developed a yearlong match under the tutelage of his father and a Bay Area-based MMA gym, culminating in his ascent to the UFC title in 2018.

Nurmagomedov stopped Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier in his next two weeks ahead of his yearlong absence from the contest. His success over McGregor left him one of the world’s most famous fight sports athletes, and also the UFC educated this pay-per-view show for an earlier-than-normal period to cater to his enormous fan base in Russia and Europe.

However, Nurmagomedov has spoken of retirement before, and his announcement confirmed he is finished with the game after running through most of the UFC lightweight branch.”Dustin and Conor are likely to fight in January,” Nurmagomedov said, speaking to the probable meeting between the prior contenders at UFC 257. “I choked out them. I am not interested in this.”Earlier, Whittaker (22-5) gave a disciplined, active performance with remarkable striking to make his second straight UFC victory since losing his title to Israel Adesanya in overdue 2019.

Capping his campaign by falling Cannonier using a mix midway through the last round, Whittaker won two of three rounds every scorecard while soundly outstriking Cannonier (13-5), who took his first loss in almost 2 1/2 decades. Whittaker likely earned a chance at a rematch with Adesanya with the victory, but he did not call out the winner after his bout, rather expressing just enthusiasm about returning home to put up his family’s Christmas tree.

Whittaker withdrew from a bout with Cannonier scheduled for March at Las Vegas because he felt burnt out on MMA.”I am very happy it is all over,” Whittaker said. “We’ve got the result we wanted. Work’s done, baby. I am coming home.”Earlier in the show, Russian heavyweight Alexander Volkov stopped Walt Harris with a kick to the chest and cries on the floor 1:15 into the next round.

Flyweight Lauren Murphy also bolstered her case to get a title shot with a second-round stoppage of Liliya Shakirova by rear-naked choke for her fourth consecutive victory.UFC 254 has been the last of five shows in a month within the advertising’s secure bubble on Yas Island. The UFC, which paused competition for only eight weeks early in the coronavirus pandemic, returns to its own hometown next week to start a set of five consecutive displays on its corporate campus in Las Vegas.