Relationships Forged Between Coaches and Fighters Make it Hard for Khabib to Leave the Sport

March 6, 2024
3 months

Khabib Nurmagomedov promised his mother he would never fight again after he submitted Justin Gaethje to retain his UFC lightweight title at UFC 254. Nurmagodemov has never gone back on his word. Despite the pressure UFC CEO Dana White applied several times for big events, the Russian star has left his legacy and 29-0 record in the past.

Leaving coaching is another story entirely. Nurmagomedov has been a major influence on the career of current lightweight champion Islam Makhachev. Welterweight title contender Belal Muhammad has also trained with the former champion. While Nurma, 35, is on the record saying he no longer wants to corner fights, he still wants to train with his brothers.

Nurmagomedov said he would like to continue to train with people until he turns 40. While Khabib is a legend in the octagon and helps train fighters, many other men have surged to the top of the coaching profession.

Khabib’s success as a coach is somewhat of a surprise. Many athletes who reach the top of their respective sports have a difficult time transitioning to coach. So many things come natural to all-time greats that they have a hard time relating to less polished fighters.

But Khabib’s work with Makhachev has provided him with skills to work with the best fighters in the world, just like some of the other top coaches. Here’s a look at some of the top coaches in the sport right now.

Nicksick is at the Top of his Game

Eric Nicksick has trained three fighters who have gone on to be UFC Champions. But with all respect to Francis Ngannou and Aljamain Sterling, Nicksick helping Sean Strickland become the UFC middleweight champion may be his career masterpiece. Strickland stepped in on short notice to fight long-time champion Israel Adesanya and turned in a dominant performance.

While Strickland’s win was a major upset, it wasn’t a performance that left much doubt about who was the better fighter that night. Strickland dropped Adesanya in the first round. Then Strickland worked behind his jab and kept Adesanya, one of the more creative strikers in UFC history, on his heels.

After Strickland won, Nicksick said that Adesanya sought him out and said that he had saved his fighter. Nicksick was calling out the combinations cageside that Adesanya was planning to throw. Strickland was able to process the information and execute the game plan.

Nicksick was never a professional fighter himself but has long trained fighters out of Xtreme Couture Mixed Martial Arts in Nevada.

Brown Draws on Fighting Experience for American Top Team

Mike Brown was one of the legends of World Extreme Cagefighting. By the time the WEC was purchased by the UFC, Brown was well past his prime. However, Brown’s post-fighting career has proven to be as eventful as his run to the belt in the WEC.

Currently, Brown is working with Bellator champion Johnny Eblen. He also has worked with former interim lightweight Dustin Poirier and current UFC flyweight champion Alexandre Pantoja. There are several other top contenders who Brown is working with now. Brown also trains Bo Nickal, Mateusz Gamrot, and Renato Moicano.

What makes Browns such a tremendous fighter is his all-around skills. He emphasizes strong wrestlers and a strong cardio base. Brown has been recognized several times by the World MMA Awards as the top coach in the sport.

Setting Up a Strong Team Outside of the United States

Eugene Bareman has given fighters in Asia an opportunity to find top coaching closer to home. Hailing from Auckland, New Zealand, several fighters under Bareman’s tutelage have flourished on the MMA stage over the past few years. Bareman is the head trainer and founder of City Kickboxing.

Bareman was recently honored as the MMA coach of the year. Adesanya and Alexander Volkanovski are two former UFC champions who have found a home at City Kickboxing. However, Bareman’s roster of fighters who have found their way to the UFC is much longer. Former interim title challenger Kai Kara-France and Dan Hooker have had big fights on the world stage. 

Online boxing news shows that City Kickboxing also has several boxers who have found success in various promotions as well.

Wittman Continues to Coach Top Talent

Trevor Wittman isn’t as active as he used to be. However, Wittman has long been considered one of the top coaches in the game. He founded the Grudge Training Facility in Colorado before later closing it to form his own business, ONX Sports, which is a combat sports equipment company. 

Wittman, who was a boxer himself, still actively works with Rose Namajunas, Justin Gaethje, and Kamaru Usman. Namajunas and Usman both held titles in their respective weight classes, while Gaethje was an interim lightweight champion. Wittman, 49, has worked with several stars.

During his career, the best MMA news sites show that Wittman also trained Donald Cerrone, T.J. Dillashaw, and Georges St-Pierre. 

Longo Has the Right Mix of Skills

Ray Longo got involved during the early days of MMA. Longo decided to help found the Serra-Longo fight team with former UFC champion Matt Serra after the two formed a friendship following a meeting at Oishi Judo gym. In 2007, Longo and Serra’s relationship resulted in big success for both men. Serra upset St-Pierre at UFC 69 to become the welterweight champion.

Longo’s gym, located in New York City, would soon see other top fighters come in search of his guidance. More than a few pulled off some surprising results. Chris Weidman stopped one of the greater title reigns in UFC history when he knocked out Anderson Silva at UFC 162 in July 2013.

Longo would go on to coach a third champion when Aljamain Sterling climbed the rankings and captured the bantamweight title.

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By Dean McHugh

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