Khabib Nurmagomedov may have shown a level of mercy toward Justin Gaethje as he wrapped up a second-round victory at UFC 254 on Saturday.
Durind Monday's episode of DC & Helwani, Daniel Cormier argued that Nurmagomedov transitioned from an armbar to a triangle in order to avoid leaving Gaethje with a serious injury.
"He told me when he was watching the interviews over the course of the week, he saw that Justin said that he would never tap," Cormier said. "He was going to do the armbar, but he had heard Justin saying all week that 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."
It's not unheard of for a fighter to refuse to submit while being prone in a limb-based submission. Frank Mir famously broke Tim Sylvia's forearm in the first round of their 2004 fight. Sylvia hadn't even realized in the moment that his arm was broken and signaled his frustration with the stoppage.
Nurmagomedov is such a master of his craft that you can also buy the idea that his mind immediately jumped to putting Gaethje away in what he viewed to be a compassionate manner, with Gaethje's parents at the event in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
The 32-year-old wasn't in much of a celebratory mood, either, pointing to how he had a lot on his mind beyond the opponent in front of him. This was his first fight since his father, Abdulmanap, died of COVID-19-related complications in July, and he was clearly overcome by the emotion of the moment.
Nurmagomedov immediately announced his retirement from MMA as well.
"I was almost brought to tears, sitting at the commentary desk, watching him sob in the middle of the Octagon," Cormier said.
He added that he doesn't expect Khabib to go back on his word and return to UFC competition.