UFC 254: Khabib Nurmagomedov announces retirement after beating Justin Gaethje, Robert Whittaker sets up Israel Adesanya rematch

Khabib Nurmagomedov has stolen the show at UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi, announcing his retirement, after a suffocating submission win over Justin Gaethje.

The Russian phenomenon locked up a lightning-fast triangle choke from mount to force a tap-out from Gaethje and maintain his flawless record, then confirmed the lightweight title defence would be his last.

Immediately after Gaethje's tap, 'The Eagle' was overcome with emotion, collapsing in the centre of the Octagon in an outpouring for late father and trainer Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, who died earlier this year.

Without his father, Nurmagomedov said he'd promised his mother this would be his final fight. 

"Today, I want to say it was my last fight," Nurmagomedov said afterwards. 

"No way I'm going to come here without my father. It was first time after what happened with my father. 

"When UFC called me with Justin, I talked with my mother for three days. She don’t [want me] to go fight without father, but I promised her it's going to be my last fight and if I give my word, I have to follow this."

Nurmagomedov added that his parting wish is to be placed atop the UFC's pound-for-pound rankings, at least temporarily.

Throughout his sparkling 29-fight undefeated tenure, Nurmagomedov has only lost a single round, a reign of unparalleled dominance that gives him a legitimate claim as the sport's 'GOAT'.

In the co-main event, Robert Whittaker outlasted Jared Cannonier to set up a potential rematch with Kiwi-Nigerian middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.

The NZ-born Aussie solidified his ranking as No.1 contender with an impressive display against the relentless Cannonier.

The American had success early with a kick-based attack, but ultimately Whittaker's diverse and efficient offence out-manoeuvred him to earn a 29-28 unanimous decision on all three judges' scorecards.

"I had a very good gameplan set out," Whittaker said afterwards. "Me and my team have worked diligently for that, and it worked flawlessly.

"I thought I controlled the entire fight… it played out like I thought it would."

Whittaker on his way to a decision win over Cannonier.
Whittaker on his way to a decision win over Cannonier. Photo credit: Getty

But whether the performance was enough to capture Adesanya's attention remains to be seen.

After his demolition of Paulo Costa at UFC 253 last month, 'The Last Stylebender' laid down the gauntlet directly to Cannonier, whose loss has now pushed him out of title contention, at least for now.

Last October, Adesanya outclassed Whittaker to win the middleweight belt and has been less than enthusiastic about a rematch.

With the prospect of a move up a division to challenge Jan Blachowicz for the light-heavyweight title, as well as a 'super fight' against Jon Jones lurking, another bout against a fighter Adesanya has essentially knocked out twice could be a tough sell.

Elsewhere on the card, Alexander Volkov finished Walt Harris in the second round with a picturesque front kick to cement his claim as a heavyweight contender.

In the preliminary headliner, Aussie fan favourite Tai Tuivasa showcased a much more clinical approach in his first-round knockout of Stefan Struve to snap his three-fight skid.

Post-fight performance bonuses went to Nurmagomedov and Magomed Ankalaev, who scored a savage knockout win over Ion Cutelaba. Nathaniel Wood and Casey Kenney earned Fight of the Night.