Javier Mendez confirmed Khabib Nurmagomedov began his training camp for UFC 254 with a stay in hospital for mumps and also broke his foot in just his second sparring session.
The American Kickboxing Academy head coach helped ‘The Eagle’ to claim a second-round submission of Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 on Saturday evening.
Nurmagomedov looked incredible from the very first bell on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi as he locked in a triangle choke within seconds of a typically aggressive takedown to retain his lightweight title.
However, the preparations were less than ideal for the bout from the very beginning, and Mendez, who has worked with Khabib for more than a decade, had an ever greater responsibility following the passing of Khabib’s father, Abdulmanap.
After 13 months away from the octagon, the Russian reluctantly returned but fell ill before appearing as a guest of honour at the inaugural MMA tournament held in his father’s memory in Moscow on September 9.
“He got the mumps, I guess, the day before his father’s event in Russia,” Mendez told Submission Radio. “So he came [to camp] with the mumps and he tried training a couple of days, really light.
“But then he got so sick he had to be hospitalised. He was in the hospital for three days. He comes out, and I’m like going, ‘I’m really s*******, man.
“I’m going, ‘oh man, we’re fighting such a great warrior like Justin and we’re already starting off on a bad foot…this really sucks.”
The 32-year-old duly missed two weeks of training for the bout against interim champion Gaethje, but was then forced to withstand another fortnight of inactivity after breaking his toe upon his return to sparring.
“We had to get some sparring in because without sparring you don’t know where you’re at,” Mendez explained. “We have one sparring session.
“He looked OK. Not how I wanted him to look, but he looked OK. And the second sparring session he was looking great, and all of a sudden, midway in the second round, boom, he stops.
“I go, ‘what the heck happened?’ Broke his freaking toe. Now we have to wait more time for him to heal before we can start training again. So that really jacked everything up.”
Immediately after defeating Gaethje with the perfectly executed triangle, Khabib confirmed his 29th professional victory was his last fight and he would honour his mother’s wishes to walk away from the sport.
Mendez claimed Khabib’s incredible mental strength allowed him to get through this fight week and complete his father’s dream of retiring as the undisputed and undefeated king of the 155lbs division.
“Six days out before the event, he said, ‘coach, my toe may be broken, but my mind is not,’” recalled confidante Mendez.
“We worked on stuff like that forever from his father. To me, when he said that my mind is not [broken], we knew that we were winning this fight, no matter what.
“We had the worst luck ever for this camp. It was incredible how bad it was.
“Every camp has problems and we had our share in this one. But he was ready, mentally and physically, to go.”