UFC 254 lightweight champ: Khabib Nurmagomedov hadn’t left the Octagon on Saturday before the debate began. Was he retiring as one of the MMA’s best of all time?

Former UFC two-weight champion Daniel Cormier, that had been Nurmagomedov’s teammate at American Kickboxing Academy, said Nurmagomedov is the GOAT(greatest of all time). Among Nurmagomedov’s credentials is a 29-0 record, which included losing just two rounds, one to Conor McGregor and — surprisingly — the very first round on Saturday to Justin Gaethje. No additional GOAT candidate has that zero in the loss column.

Jon Jones, that may be the most frequently recognized since the GOAT, quickly weighed in on interpersonal networking, scoffing at the idea of affixing the GOAT label to a fighter using only four name defenses. Jones, 26-1, has got the most name fight wins in UFC history with 14. And if he does have one reduction, it was a controversial disqualification for illegal elbow strikes through a bout that he was dominating.

Georges St-Pierre retired with a 20-2 record and is one of only seven fighters to acquire belts in different divisions. Anderson Silva’s 16-fight win streak is the longest in UFC history. So did Nurmagomedov actually retire as the best MMA fighter of all time?

Okamoto: Overall, Marc, let me start by admitting that I don’t usually get too fired up about this whole GOAT dialog, but if there was ever an appropriate time to have it, I believe it needs to be now. And yes, I really do believe Khabib is the best of all time. I’m willing to say that pretty confidently, even though there’s no real way to prove it.

I’ve my discussions, but I think we ought to hear who’s your GOAT before I make my case. So, what say you about the situation?

Raimondi: I’m not a huge fan of these types of debates, either. I think Georges St-Pierre — who can make a GOAT case for himself — said it best in an interview with our pal Ariel Helwani following Nurmagomedov’s win. There are several fighters, GSP stated, who’s been the best ever at different intervals. I’d agree with you, in this moment in time, Nurmagomedov absolutely feels like the greatest.

But I’m a big-picture observer, Brett. I love to step back and see the forest, not just the trees. And if you are looking at the entire picture — the entire body of work — I believe Jon Jones has to be the GOAT.

Okamoto: OK, great. Thus, we understand what we’re arguing here: Khabib vs. Jones. Interestingly, because plenty of people reading this just concluded we’re both idiots for not stating GSP. Haha.

But that’s why the argument is fun! We have our reasons. So, you say Jones. Why?

Raimondi: Well, for the record, I would place St-Pierre’s résumé over Nurmagomedov’s. I try to look at the whole picture. While I believe Nurmagomedov’s current run is incredible — probably the very best three-fight stretch — he simply didn’t have the longevity on top of his branch-like Jones or GSP did.

Nurmagomedov has four UFC name combat victories. Jones has 14 at light heavyweight. Nurmagomedov includes three UFC name defenses. Jones has 11. Jones, outside-the-cage issues aside, was the light heavyweight winner without sacrificing the belt at the Octagon for almost a decade.

For me, if we are talking about the GOAT, it starts and ends with longevity and an accumulation of quality victories over the best fighters in your division. Additionally, I’d like to add that Jones is still moving, is still winning, and might be taking a look at a UFC heavyweight title bout in the near future.

Okamoto: I hear you about the”longevity at the top” debate. It’s a good argument. But at the end of the afternoon, I am comfortable with it not being the final measuring stick of greatness. Not all name defenses are created equal, after all.

Yes, Jones has a lot of them. However, when we’re nitpicking — and in a disagreement over who the GOAT is involving two fighters, that is what we’re doing, we are nitpicking — Jones was lucky enough to confront some of the larger names of his title reign when they were past their primes. That’s not his fault, but it is worth pointing out.

Some of those guys did not do much after they fought Jones, and I do not think it was since Jones just wrecked their professions. I think it’s more because they have been showing some signs of decline.

Mauricio”Shogun” Rua is 8-6-1 because he dropped to Jones. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is 6-5. Rashad Evans is 2-6. Now, I am not saying those guys weren’t great when Jones fought them were they in their absolute peaks? Frankly, probably not.

You include in a few middleweights like Chael Sonnen and even, to an extent, Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort… again, Marc, I know I’m nitpicking, but where am I incorrect here?

Subsequently, Jones almost lost to Alexander Gustafsson. Nearly lost to Thiago Santos. Virtually lost to Dominick Reyes.

You said something before, that Nurmagomedov’s streak of submitting and dominating Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier, and Justin Gaethje in the way he did might be the best three-fight stretch ever. I’ll go 1 step further: It is that the greatest three-fight stretch ever.

And just because Nurmagomedov is deciding to walk away at the top, in his prime, if he can do more, I won’t let this be the reason I don’t call this man what he’s — and that is the best to ever do it.

However, the best of all time? I put more weight into the consistency and length of Jones’ greatness. While he did practically lose some of those fights, as you mentioned, he won all of them. And to me, that’s the mark of authentic GOAT status. Just win, baby. Nobody was better at this than Jones.

Okamoto: All honest. It feels like we have a basic difference in how we look at it and judge it. However, allow me to say a few final items. First, I want to reiterate I am not criticizing Jones’ run in any way. What he has accomplished, of course, is quite near — or — the finest we have ever seen. And depending on which he can at all, listen, my response might be different in the not-too-distant future. If Jones goes on and catches the heavyweight championship and adds a couple more chapters into up his career there, it will be difficult to deny him.

But at the close of the day, this comes down to a simple idea for me: If I had to pick a winner — if my life depended on one fighter to go out there and also secure a win — I am carrying the Khabib who fought Gaethje on Saturday night 10 days out of 10. That man was unbeatable. This was a degree of excellence in mixed martial arts that I don’t think we have ever witnessed. And that’s more important to me than a handful of further name defenses.

Raimondi: Not only a few, though, right? Jones has more than three times as numerous title defenses as Nurmagomedov. That’s not a trivial difference. If it had been just a few more, sure, I could completely understand your purpose. But more? Eight title defenses alone would put you in this GOAT conversation.

In addition, I need to add the last thing I am looking to do is Reduce Nurmagomedov’s accomplishments. He is a legend. And when he does truly step away now, he will have a rush — along with a career — just like none other, going out at the top while still undefeated, even though I would still love to watch him struggle St-Pierre.


With that said, the amounts and documents Jones has put up are spectacular. They’re quantifiable, more so than some envisioned, a subjective scenario where you need to pick one fighter to win 1 fight. And yes, Jones did fail two drug tests for over-the-counter medication.

If you would like to count that against him, then I won’t argue too challenging. However, as he has replicated, the United States Anti-Doping Agency, the organization which suspended him also said it didn’t find any evidence that he intentionally cheated.

I’d know if these items were disqualifying to a, in which case I’d argue for St-Pierre atop the GOAT rankings. GSP has nine title guards, won titles in two distinct branches, and avenged both reductions of his livelihood.