The holy month of Ramadan is an integral part of the Muslim faith. It begins and ends with the appearance of the new moon to mark the ninth month of the Islamic calendar – April 23 to May 23 in 2020. Islamic tradition states that it was during the “Night of Power” – commemorated on one of the last 10 nights of Ramadan – that Islam’s holy book, the Koran, was sent down to the first heaven before being revealed to the Prophet Muhammad bit by bit over 23 years. Ramadan is seen as a period of introspection for Muslims, filled with prayer, reading of the holy book and “sawm”, or fasting, in which Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk, while also trying to avoid gossiping and anger. UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, who hails from the Dagestan region of Russia, is also a devout Muslim. His faith is woven into every aspect of his life and each year becomes a balancing act with the demanding duties of being a world-class fighter. The Dagestan Chronicles from Anatomy of a Fighter offers a unique glimpse into Nurmagomedov’s upbringing and home life back in Russia. A multi-part series that follows the fighter from the gyms to the mosques to his childhood home during Ramadan, it showcases a side of him few have seen before. He is very candid in one episode about the impact that Ramadan has on his training, and how he has to balance obligations to his faith and his professional career as a mixed martial artist. “It’s crazy, fasting is not easy,” he says during a break from training before his fight with Conor McGregor, which he won convincingly on October 6, 2018. “Seventeen hours, no drink, no eat, no nothing. It’s like you cut weight.” The date of his tilt with McGregor is interesting within the context of Ramadan. In 2019, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar fell from May 5 to June 3. Nurmagomedov only fought twice in 2018, the other being on April 7, a win over Al Iaquinta at UFC 223. In 2017, Nurmagomedov only fought once, on December 30, and in 2016 he fought on April 16, and then not again until November. In 2016 Ramadan fell from June 6 to July 5. In a video on his own website, posted last May, he talks about preparing for his win against Dustin Poirier, which took place in September of 2019. Nurmagomedov’s fight record is perfect and includes 12 straight UFC wins dating back to 2012. “I train twice a day,” he said through translation. “Before the ‘iftar’ (breaking the fast at sunset) and before the ‘suhur’ (light meal before dawn to begin the fast), we try to work carefully, because we do not eat and drink from dawn to dusk. The body is dehydrated by the end of the day, so we work competently. Basically, we have grappling, stretching and some weight exercises. We try not to spar. We do not want this month Ramadan to beat each other in the face.” View this post on Instagram Продолжаю делать то, что я делаю лучше всего, просто прихожу в зал и тренируюсь. @bukaboxing A post shared by Khabib Nurmagomedov (@khabib_nurmagomedov) on May 12, 2020 at 8:56am PDT Nurmagomedov continued, talking about how he does not alter his diet during Ramadan. “There is no special nutrition. Just do not eat all day, and at night we try not to overeat. Otherwise, everything is fine.” In an interview with EsNews posted on YouTube in March of this year we got the latest glimpse of how the devout Muslim handles balancing his faith and training obligations. The timing of the video is interesting as it was during the lead up to what everyone expected would finally be the much anticipated tilt between Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson, which didn’t end up happening for the fifth time. “Before when we make this fight, we talk with [the UFC]. I tell them please make anytime before Ramadan. And they make it one week before Ramadan. Ramadan is like a little bit off training, but I’m still training too, but this is more pray, I spend this time with my family, my parents. I go [to the] mosque and pray, and day and night, fasting, and of course we train, too.” Nurmagomedov was then asked if he found it more difficult to train during Ramadan. “It’s very hard. It’s very dangerous. All day you know, no drink, no eat. Injuries can come, so not too much contact and without sparring, and still hard. And after Ramadan we need minimum 45 days to recover, like athlete, not like human … it’s why we have to watch everything.” He went on to say that he has been fasting for more than 10 years and now knows his body and how quickly he can recover. However in another interview, posted in April of this year, he said his faith always supersedes his fighting career. “When Ramadan comes, this is everything for me, I don’t think about fight … religion for me is number one, sport is not for me number one. I love sport, I do this all my life, but religion for me is number one.” During UFC president Dana White’s post-fight press conference for UFC Fight Night: Smith vs Teixeira, which took place on May 13 in Jacksonville, Florida, he stated emphatically that Justin Gaethje’s next fight would be in September against Nurmagomedov. As UFC fans witnessed last weekend, Gaethje put on a clinic against Ferguson, in a fight where he was seen as a serious underdog. This would give Nurmagomedov ample time to recover from this year’s Ramadan. His faith adds an interesting dimension to the fight world, showcasing how fighters are often balancing multiple commitments, obligations from a variety of backgrounds. Nurmagomedov’s devotion to Islam is a fascinating glimpse into how a world champion-calibre mixed martial artist finds harmony between his dedication to his religion and also his fight game. Help us understand what you are interested in so that we can improve SCMP and provide a better experience for you. We would like to invite you to take this five-minute survey on how you engage with SCMP and the news.