Khabib Nurmagomedov returns at UFC 302 to coach Islam Makhachev against Dustin Poirier

Khabib Nurmagomedov will be in Islam Makhachev’s corner in New Jersey this weekend, coaching his childhood friend against Dustin Poirier at UFC 302.

Makhachev will defend the lightweight belt in the main event, as he bids for a third successful title defence. Such a result would see the Russian match his childhood friend Khabib, who retained the title three times before retiring undefeated and as champion in 2020.

After hanging up the gloves, Khabib spent a spell as a coach and guided Makhachev to the lightweight title in 2022. The 35-year-old later decided to stop training fighters, but he will return to Makhachev’s corner on Saturday.

“This means a lot,” Makhachev said. “This is like [adding] to striking 20 per cent, to wrestling 20 per cent, to the plan. It’s always great to have Khabib in the corner, because I think he gives me good advice in a lot of fights.

“I remember with Gleison Tibau, he told me try to land the left hook; I did and I finished him. With [Dan] Hooker, he gave me very good advice when I finished him by armbar [kimura]. With the title fight, he gave me a lot of good advice.

“Always good to have Khabib in the corner. It’s not just for me. Good news, everybody was happy when Khabib said, ‘I will be in the corner.’

“I think No 1, he missed the feeling. I think he was very nervous when he [sat] in a room watching the fight. He always takes care of us, he wants to help. That’s why he’s here.”

Poirier is an opponent whom Nurmagomedov knows well, having submitted the American in 2019 to stay champion. Poirier held the interim title at the time, and the bout marked his first shot at undisputed gold.

Makhachev (centre) celebrates with Nurmagomedov (centre-right) after becoming champion (AFP via Getty Images)
Makhachev (centre) celebrates with Nurmagomedov (centre-right) after becoming champion (AFP via Getty Images)

The “Diamond” also came up short against Charles Oliveira in 2021, and he admits that Saturday could be his last chance to win the belt. In fact, Poirier has hinted that he could retire regardless of the result.

“I hope he doesn’t,” Makhachev said. “I think he’s one of the biggest names in the sport. That’s why I respect him. I respect him because he has a lot of crazy fights in this sport.

“[I’d be] just happy to beat someone who has a big name like Dustin. For the legacy, it’s going to be maybe the biggest name on my list.”