UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov said Friday that he spent five days in an intensive care unit with the mumps in the months leading up to his title defense against Justin Gaethje in October.
Khabib, who defeated Gaethje by submission and then announced his retirement, told fellow Russian MMA fighter Magomed Ismailov the health scare delayed the start of his training camp until Sept. 24 (via Dan Hiergesell of MMA Mania).
"I started feeling worse on the plane, and when we arrived, I got a high fever," he said. "It was getting really bad, and after a while, I was taken to the hospital, and I had intensive care for five days. It was really bad."
Khabib added that he suffered a broken thumb Oct. 7, just 17 days before the Gaethje fight, and considered withdrawing from the card.
His dominant victory over Gaethje, which moved his career record to 29-0, is even more impressive in hindsight given the revelation of his health concerns leading up to the title defense.
The 32-year-old superstar told Ismailov he felt it was his mental strength that put him over the top against his American counterpart.
"You may not see this, but I felt it: He gave up," Khabib said. "I mean, his will was broken. He gave up mentally. I don't think that I won this fight physically, but rather mentally."
Now the question is whether his retirement is firm or whether UFC President Dana White will be able to convince one of his top draws to return at some point.
White hyped the potential for Khabib to make a quick return to face one of the main event winners from UFC 257, either Dustin Poirier or Michael Chandler. But both those hopes faded after the Jan. 24 card.
"I did talk to Khabib," White told reporters. "And he said to me, 'Dana, be honest with yourself. I'm so many levels above these guys. I beat these guys.' I don't know. But it doesn't sound very positive. We'll see."
It doesn't sound like Nurmagomedov is 100 percent set on retirement, but it appears he's going to want a legitimate challenger to emerge in order to return to the Octagon.
In turn, the future of the lightweight division remains up in the air.