If there's one thing that's heartbreaking about Khabib Nurmagomedov laying his gloves down in the center of the cage last Saturday at UFC 254 to signal the end of his 12-year pro career, it's that the UFC lightweight champion decided to walk away just as he was finding out how great he can be.
Nurmagomedov, who improved to a gaudy 29-0, had just put the finishing touches on a dominant second-round submission of interim champion Justin Gaethje in Abu Dhabi. After an emotional reaction to his victory just three months following the death of his father and trainer, Nurmagomedov revealed a promise to his mother that he would never fight again without his father by his side.
The news was certainly good for the deep ground of top contenders and future Hall of Famers that populate the 155-pound rankings below Nurmagomedov. But along with the time spent outside the cage due to bad luck and injury that limited Nurmagomedov to just seven UFC fights in the past six years, his early retirement comes at a point in which he raised the ceiling of his game to a level most never believed he would achieve.
A fighter often labeled as one-dimensional due to his mastery of wrestling, Nurmagomedov evolved into an incredibly well-rounded force, particularly in the three fights that closed his career: title defenses against Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier and Gaethje, with all three one-sided bouts ending via submission.
What was evident so early in his fight with the dangerous Gaethje was how big the gap was between them from the standpoint of technique and execution. Nurmagomedov exhausted Gaethje early by constantly cutting off the cage to apply pressure. He also walked through heavy punches and hard leg kicks before swooping in to finish the fight with an incredible takedown and transition to full mount before applying a seated triangle choke.
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For as historically deep as the lightweight division was during Nurmagomedov's reign as its best fighter, the fact that he was able to so impressively widen the gap between him and everyone else speaks best to how great he truly was.
As a man of conviction as it pertains to his faith and the importance of his family, there's little reason to believe we ever will see him fight again. The decision to walk away while standing so firmly in possession of the title as pound-for-pound king should only help Nurmagomedov's legacy given the fact that we never saw him make a fatal mistake inside the cage or become badly compromised due to age, diminished skill or injury.
Nurmagomedov will take his victory lap atop the P4P standings while the UFC decides what's next for the lightweight title. Whomever succeeds him over the next year as both 155-pound champion and the new king of the sport from a P4P standpoint, it's hard to imagine anyone being as dominant as "The Eagle."
For CBS Sports' updated divisional rankings,.
Men's pound-for-pound rankings
| 1. Jon Jones||Heavyweight||26-1 (1 NC)|
|Although he recently vacated his 205-pound crown for a move up with the big boys, recent Twitter activity from Jones suggests he might not be done at 205 pounds following callouts of Jan Blachowicz and Israel Adesanya. Either way, the once dominant Jones' hold on this spot is precarious after a series of close fights.|
|2. Israel Adesnaya||Middleweight champion||20-0|
|Unless he chooses to satisfy Jon Jones' wish for a super fight following their extended skirmish on social media, Adesanya is likely headed toward a title rematch against former middleweight king Robert Whittaker. A dominant victory there could secure him the top spot on this list given Nurmagomedov's exit. |
|3. Stipe Miocic||Heavyweight champion||20-3|
|The 38-year-old Miocic closed out his trilogy with Daniel Cormier at UFC 252 in August by cementing his status as the greatest heavyweight in UFC history. Miocic said he isn't retiring anytime soon, and appears on course for a spring rematch against slugger Francis Ngannou.|
|4. Kamaru Usman||Welterweight champion||17-1|
|Despite playing it safe down the stretch, Usman was dominant in outworking late-replacement Jorge Masvidal to defend his title at UFC 251. A December return against teammate Gilbert Burns was pushed back until 2021 due to injury. |
|5. Deiveson Figueiredo||Flyweight champion||20-1|
|Three stoppage victories, all in title bouts, in 2020 have Figueiredo poised to be the promotion's next breakout star and the Fighter of the Year. The native of Brazil has swagger for days, and a deft ability to finish a fight on the ground or while standing. Up next is a short turnaround against Brandon Moreno in December. |
|6. Alexander Volkanovski||Featherweight champion||22-1||--|
|A second win over former champion Max Holloway brought with it a bit of controversy over the disputed split decision. However you scored it, Volkanovski is expected to have his hands full next time out with a re-energized Brian Ortega.|
|7. Dustin Poirier||Lightweight||26-6 (1 NC)||--|
|At 31, Poirier very much remains championship material, which his all-action June win over Dan Hoooker proved. Poirier returns on Jan. 23 in a rematch with Conor McGregor that could see some form of a title at stake should Khabib Nurmagomedov's retirement talk prove real. |
|8. Max Holloway||Featherweight||21-6|
|Holloway was forced to settle for a split-decision loss in his title rematch with Volkanovski, which was heavily disputed by critics. The performance showed that at 28, Holloway remains among the best in the world. He returns on Jan. 16 against rising contender Calvin Kattar. |
|9. Justin Gaethje||Lightweight||22-3|
|Gaethje appeared close to chopping down the left leg of Nurmagomedov until the departing lightweight champion mounted and submitted him. But with the title expected to become vacant, there's no reason "The Highlight" can't work himself back to the top over the next year. |
|10. Petr Yan||Bantamweight champion||15-1|
Although his expected December return against Aljamain Sterling was delayed until next year, Yan very much looked like the real deal in 2020 by claiming the vacant title at 135 pounds. Equal parts power and precision, the 27-year-old will get plenty of chances to improve his ranking on this list in such a loaded division.
Dropped out: Khabib Nurmagomedov
Just missed: Jan Blachowicz, Tony Ferguson, Robert Whittaker, Gilbert Burns, Brian Ortega, Aljamain Sterling, Conor McGregor
Women's pound-for-pound rankings
|1. Amanda Nunes||Bantamweight/Featherweight champion||20-4||--|
A dominant featherweight title defense over Felicia Spencer in June has only widened the gap between Nunes and every other female fighter at or near her weight divisions. Although Nunes' expected return in December at 145 pounds against Megan Anderson was delayed, Dana White has recently been open to the idea of a trilogy bout against Valentina Shevchenko.
|2. Valentina Shevchenko||Flyweight champion||20-3||--|
|Fresh off of MCL surgery, Shevchenko displayed her well-rounded attack in a wide decision win over a game Jennifer Maia at UFC 255. Although her preference is a trilogy back up at 135 pounds against Amanda Nunes, future title defenses at flyweight against Jessica Andrade and Lauren Murphy offer a decent amount of intrigue considering the division's lack of depth. |
|3. Weili Zhang||Strawweight champion||21-1||--|
|Zhang's ascent to stardom after becoming China's first UFC champion only continued in her first title defense at UFC 248. She co-authored quite possibly the best fight in women's MMA history against Joanna Jedrzejczyk while answering any remaining questions about her skills, toughness and cardio. Following a long layoff to finish out the year, look for big things in 2021.|
|4. Rose Namajunas||Strawweight||9-4||--|
|The former 115-pound champion made an emphatic return from a long layoff to end talk of retirement by avenging her title loss to Jessica Andrade. "Thug" Rose was forced to walk through hell to do so in a near disastrous final round that left her swollen and bloody. An inevitable showdown with Weili Zhang for the belt could be the best fight to make in women's MMA.|
|5. Joanna Jedrzejczyk||Strawweight||16-4||--|
|The former champion proved she's still got a ton left in the tank by pushing Weili Zhang to the limit in a split-decision loss. Jedrzejczyk's return, however, remains uncertain as the 33-year-old said a 2021 appearance would only come once fans are allowed to pack arenas once again. |
Dropped out: None
Just missed: Jessica Andrade, Germaine de Randamie, Tatiana Suarez, Holly Holm, Aspen Ladd, Yan Xiaonan