Oct 6, 2018 – A date that’s etched into my memory along with thousands of other UFC fans. It’s the date that Khabib choked out Connor. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a day when the entire neighbourhood huddled into one backyard.
The anticipation for this fight was unlike any other. Months of trash talk and chair-throwing resulted in one of the greatest finishes ever. For us though, this fight was different.
Seeing Khabib go up against what at that time was a representation of bigotry, racism, and hate made the finish even sweeter. But I always wonder to myself why we feel differently when Khabib fights versus any other athlete. I can’t help to wonder if this was the feeling and emotion that stirred when Muhammad Ali would perform. Maybe Khabib is just different, like Ali.
Is it because he’s out there to squash stereotypes and represent the faith at a macro level? Yeah, maybe.
Is it because he’s a world champion and stands undefeated? Yeah, maybe.
Is it because he’s a Muslim? Yeah, maybe. But I still don’t think that’s it.
Maybe this is more about the little things than anything else. We have Nazem Kadri. We have Mo Farah. And we have Mo Salah. And I promise you, this is not to throw shade at any of them because I admire and respect all that they’ve done and accomplished both as Muslims and athletes. But there’s just something about Khabib. He’s just different.
Maybe it’s the fact that he fasts, like us.
Or that he prays his salah, like us.
Or that he incorporates Alhamdulillah, and In Sha Allah into his sentences, like us.
Or that he doesn’t respond to hate with hate, like us.
Or that he respects his father and family, like us.
Or that he treats his community as brothers, like us.
Or is it that he knows that there’s more to this world than fighting, like us?
Maybe Khabib resonates with us more than any other athlete not because of what he does, but rather how he does it. Even after the fame and the money, he keeps it real and grounded. He’s what we all strive to be. But more than anything else, maybe it’s because he’s one of us.