Why Khabib Nurmagomedov switched from armbar to triangle choke on Justin Gaethje

Cassandra Negley
·Writer
·3 min read

Khabib Nurmagomedov went out on top, finishing his career with an undefeated record after delivering a triangle choke to Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 on Saturday.

The fighter’s reasoning for the choke over an armbar is not only heartfelt, but exemplary of how skilled the fighter was to think through all of it in the moment.

Khabib didn’t want to hurt Gaethje with parents there

Nurmagomedov switched away from the armbar because Gaethje’s parents were in attendance at Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, Daniel Cormier said on ESPN’s DC & Helwani show.

Cormier said he spoke with Nurmagomedov after the fight and relayed, direct from his phone, the reasoning the fighter gave him.

In the second round, Nurmagomedov was ready to complete the submission that was a favorite of his father. Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, who was also the fighter’s coach, died of COVID-19 complications in July. The submission goes from the mounted position to the armbar into the triangle.

Nurmagomedov, 32, watched Gaethje’s interviews the week ahead of the fight and saw him say he would never tap out. He also knew the 31-year-old Gaethje’s parents were cageside.

“So when he got there, he wanted to do the armbar,” Cormier said. “But he had heard Justin all week say he would never tap. And he didn’t want to hurt him in front of his parents. So he went to the triangle and just kind of put him to sleep.”

An armbar would have broken Gaethje’s arm if the fighter refused to tap out. A triangle choke instead puts the fighter to sleep, ending the bout. Though Gaethje did end up tapping (the refs didn’t see it), Nurmagomedov operated under the belief he wouldn’t do so in any case.

“To be comfortable enough to think about this in the moment, that’s crazy,” Cormier said. “He didn’t want to break his arm, because if Justin doesn’t want to tap then you have to break it and he didn’t want to do that to him in front of his mom and dad. He said if I put him to sleep, he’ll wake up and everything will be OK.”

Gaethje said before the fight as soon as the bell rings he would be able to pay for his mother to retire after his parents financially supported his dream.

Nurmagomedov, the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world in the Yahoo Sports rankings, announced his retirement immediately after the win. He is 29-0 and 13-0 in the UFC and it was his first fight without his father.

Khabib Nurmagomedov in his corner.
Khabib Nurmagomedov opted for the triangle choke because of family. (Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

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