All posts by Ben Zeltser

Khabib Retires Officially: His Legacy and the Future of the Lightweight Division

When we get hooked on a TV series, we just want more content. Production houses are happy to oblige – building the universe out means more money in their pockets. We occasionally fall into a trap of milking a story for too long, thus impacting the overall legacy. Both as a fan and as a creator, it’s so hard to know when it’s time to call it quits.

Khabib Nurmagomedov knew.

A flawless MMA record of 29-0, summed up with multiple Sambo world titles, multiple Grappling No-Gi world titles (at welterweight) a European Pankration title and a European Hand-To-Hand Combat title solidify him as one of the greatest combat sports athletes of all time. And he’s still 32.

In reality, Khabib has been retired for a while now. He admitted to Megan Olivi yesterday that he has truly been retired for months, and that Dana White’s understandable efforts to coax him back into the octagon have been for naught. As we look forward, a handful of high-level contenders remain to scrap for the strap, all of whom stand leagues below the Dagestani legend in both legacy and head-to-head success.

A matchup between Michael Chandler and Charles Oliveira seems uncomfortable without a certain lightweight from Louisiana in the mix, but the rest of the contenders were dominated by the man vacating the title. Dustin Poirier can get his chance again, but the matchup signals a clear homage to Khabib’s dominance.

After only losing two rounds on any judges’ scorecards, the man feels like he has nothing left to prove. We, as fans, call out for him to continue his legacy – at least until he hits 30-0 – but we must respect a decision borne from the tragic passing of his father and the wishes of his mother. This writer knows that it’s hard to say “no” to a Russian mother.

The reality is that he truly has nothing left to prove. Let’s do the math. If Khabib were to hypothetically fight again, he would have done so against one of the following fighters:

  • Charles Oliveira after beating Tony Ferguson: Oliveira is the peoples’ choice for who Khabib could fight. After a tough first three fights at 155 in the UFC (0-2, 1 No-Contest), he tried his luck at 145, where he would go 7-5 and miss weight four times. In 2017, he moved back to 155, where he has gone 9-1 since. Now on an eight-fight win streak with seven finishes, he is primed to fight for the title, holding half of the UFC records in the book. “Do Bronx” has slick Jiu-Jitsu that could present an issue for Khabib, but with a few submission losses by choke on his record, I can definitely see Khabib putting him to sleep. But if Khabib were to fight again, he would want a legacy fight, and beating a long-time journeyman would add nothing to his legacy.
  • Dustin Poirier after TKOing Connor McGregor: Poirier felt like he was already the champion after he finished McGregor through a calf-kick-centered game plan. He feels like the next best 155er, but he was stopped by Khabib in decisive fashion a year and a half ago. The MMA community gravitates to Poirier, but he truly needs the title picture to not include Khabib for him to get his hands on it again. It looks like another money fight with Connor is in the cards, for the time being.
  • Michael Chandler after TKOing Dan Hooker: This option has several layers that could have made it interesting. A former Bellator champion gives it a UFC vs. Bellator type feel, Chandler’s D-1 All-American wrestling gives him confidence on the ground. It’s impressive that Chandler stopped someone who has only been stopped once before and went five rounds with Poirier, but it would be difficult to see him controlling a fight with Khabib. Ultimately, I’m not sure if there would be enough appeal for Khabib to even accept this fight, given the risk combined with the fact that he only has one fight in the UFC.
  • Georges St-Pierre: This is the legacy fight. Who is the GOAT? St. Pierre has stayed in shape since retiring, but staying in shape and staying in fight shape are two different animals. This certainly would have been a better option a few years ago.

At the end of the day, Khabib leaves the division in good hands. The lightweight division has never been deeper. Established contenders like Oliveira, Poirier, McGregor, Chandler and Justin Gaethje provide several fitting championship suitors.

Resilient veterans like Hooker, Ferguson, Rafael Dos Anjos, Paul Felder and Kevin Lee provide several high level fighters looking to re-insert themselves into the picture. Up-and-coming competitors like Beneil Dariush and Islam Makachev could easily find themselves in the top five after their next respective fights. Khabib leaves arguably the most stacked division in the UFC.

A man who has been fighting smashing his entire life doesn’t need to fight smash any longer, and I think that’s kind of beautiful.

Why I Love John Wall

I’m a big fan of social media. We can all admit to its downfalls as much as we can laud its applications. It’s 2021, and that means I can send a message to somebody who I just watched on television – and if I’m lucky, they might even respond.

It was because of yet another occasion in which I resolved to slide into one of my heroes’ DMs that I now find myself feeling an overwhelming sensation of wanting to shift this sentiment into a more productive means. This recipe calls for one teaspoon of thesaurus, two cups of the message that I was about to send, four gallons of corny and of course just a pinch of actual basketball analysis. Here’s why John Wall is my favorite player of all time.

My first interaction with John Wall actually had nothing to do with basketball. It was 2010 and like many 13-year old hustlers my age, I was spending my entire day on YouTube. The flavor of the week for me was America’s Best Dance Crew (ABDC) on MTV, and I was falling into yet another inescapable YouTube hole. Eventually, one of the “suggestions” on the right side of the screen brought me this video.

Of course I knew about the LeBrons, Kobes and MJs of the world, but my only true NBA experience at that point was going to see my hometown NJ Nets (featuring Brooke Lopez and Nenad Krstić) with my Jewish congregation. Thus my first reaction to this video naturally went like: who is John Wall and how is he hitting the best dougie I have seen since cousin Sasha broke it down at my bar mitzvah?

I learned quickly that Wall wasn’t just a great dancer with a song & dance dedicated to him – he was the NBA’s first overall pick that year, and for good reason. Wall led a Kentucky team featuring several NBA stalwarts (DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe, Darius Miller, etc.) to an SEC championship, the best record in the conference’s regular season and a trip to the NCAA Elite Eight.

John Wall backed up his college accolades with an immediate impact in the league, and as he carried out his rookie season as an NBA player, I carried out my rookie season as an NBA fan – a Wizards fan. Naturally, I gravitated to the All-Rookie First teamer who was deprived of the ROTY award by Blake Griffin in an early version of the Donovan Mitchell-Ben Simmons beef. But he kept going.

Wall constantly flashed brilliance on both ends of the floor, but his first three seasons ultimately indicated a parlay of shooting woes and injury. It was in his fourth season that he began to show through as one of the NBA’s elite, and he had a sophomore Bradley Beal by his side to make some noise with. Wall took Washington to their first playoff berth since 2008, and showed maturity in a five-game drubbing of the fourth-seed Bulls, before eventually losing in six to Paul George’s Pacers.

He led the Wiz to the playoffs in three of the next four seasons, and Wall’s dominant 2017 performance gave us this gem.

Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

But it wasn’t the results that made Wall must-watch television – it was the way he did it. The point god from Raleigh played both ends of the floor in the most unselfish way possible. He made it his mission to get his teammates involved as a pass-first player whose killer instinct told him exactly when it was time to take over the game.

Wall would throw an alley-oop, go back to shut down the other team’s best player, make a clutch steal and use his game-breaking speed to jump through the building for an acrobatic finish. After that, he would run full-speed back down the court to surprise the opposing center with a chase-down block. John Wall wanted to win at all costs, and he brought an intensity that could only have been matched by a handful of players in NBA history.

When John Wall and Russell Westbrook traded places, you already know that my fandom flew right towards the land of no state income tax. The fact of the matter is that Wall is still 30 years old and has plenty of productive years ahead of him. He’ll still chirp to opposition like it’s 2012, and he’ll be classy and mature afterwards.

When things don’t go his way, John Wall gets in the gym. When injuries hit, John Wall puts his head down and grinds his way back into the limelight. A series of unfortunate injuries have kept him out of the league for a season and half, but it’s about time to remind the world who John Wall really is. He might not have the bounce anymore, but Wall will never lose the instincts, basketball IQ and vision that once made him the country’s number one basketball prospect. Plus, he’s still got wheels.

With James Harden’s dismissal of the Rockets’ current roster as perfect fuel to fire Houston up, Wall gets a chance to prove him wrong with some help from Cousins, Christian Wood and Victor Oladipo. I know what John Wall can do, and it’s time for the rest of you to know too.

Now imagine his reaction if I had sent this to his DMs.