Khabib Nurmagomedov is the all-time greatest, an undefeated Russian mixed martial artist known for great MMA wrestling and his perfect record.
But the dominant ground and pound mauling specialist caught the public eye’s attention thanks to another detail – a big, wooly, fuzzy white hat on his head during the walk towards the Octagon.
What is the story behind Khabib’s hat? What does papakha mean to the people from Dagestan (a part of the Transcaucasus region, Russia, bordered by the Caspian Sea in the east)? How did it affect Nurmagomedov’s UFC career and turn him into a star?
Please read on to understand why Khabib wears a warm sheepskin and wool-adjusted hat on the top of his head for weigh-ins, his walkouts, and post-fight interviews!
What is Khabib’s hat called? What does it mean?
The mysterious item on the top of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s head is known under the name “papakha”. It is native to Dagestan’s “Avar” culture.
In the mountain region of Dagestan, it represents a very important part of culture and man’s identity.
Papakha is a word of Turkish origin. It means a specific ovular hat made of karakul sheepskin. It is believed that giving papakha to another person represents a sign of massive respect between the two in Dagestani culture.
But Khabib’s hat can be seen all around the Caucasus region. It is popular in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and some other parts of Russia.
Which are papakha’s functions?
Papakha is made of warm sheepskin. It is a wool-adjusted item with a rope to fit. Anyone can wear it, from kids to adults.
The shepherds in “The Land of Mountains” use papakha to protect their heads from cold winds and winters. Your head and hair stay warm. You won’t freeze to death even when the temperature drops below zero degrees Fahrenheit.
The lovely piece of Dagestani culture reflects the resilience and endurance required to survive the harsh conditions. It is a symbol of strength among males. Overall, the papakha reflects the laborious heritage of mountain people from the Caucasus region.
But there is another purpose of papakha, which came with the arrival of Khabib Nurmagomedov into the greatest MMA promotion. It has a huge meaning to Khabib for a reason.
The former UFC 155-pound champ always felt that it was a great honor to represent his country on the global stage. You should have seen the distinctive wool hat every single time Khabib was making his way towards the UFC Octagon.
There were always people who were making fun of Khabib’s hat because they were unable to understand the cultural difference (fair enough, Khabib is against ring girls, but this is the 21st century).
Now it serves to represent the country of Dagestan in the international MMA circuit and to show their traditions to the rest of the world.
Why did Khabib start wearing his hat?
Khabib was set to fight Kamal Shalorus at his UFC debut in January 2012. “The Eagle” was at the airport, getting ready to catch the airplane for the USA, and noticed a shop selling souvenirs.
His then-manager Sam Kardan quickly realized that UFC’s a big stage, and told Nurmagomedov to buy a unique item that would make him stand out in front of the diehard American MMA fans.
UFC was already under agreement with various sponsors, but hats have never been prohibited. For example, Donald Cerrone wears a cowboy hat when he walks towards the ring (his nickname speaks why). So Khabib chose a part of a traditional Dagestani outfit.
The then-UFC debutant purchased the woolen hat for 50 dollars at the airport gift shop. Khabib chose the hat because “there is a possibility of losing the luggage but the hat always stays with me”.
His influence was growing, and many people started recognizing him for the sheepskin hat he always wore. It became one of the most influential items in UFC history.
During his UFC run, Khabib was always wearing the papakha he bought in 2012. He has never changed his traditional item.
The legendary Dagestani warrior was bringing part of his heritage and homeland every time he stepped into the ring. It was later recognized as Khabib’s hat among MMA fans.
Khabib’s popularity growth changed the crowd. More and more fans started wearing a traditional Dagestani hat. “Khabib’s time” is still one of the most popular tweets among diehard fans of the former UFC lightweight champion.
Joe understands the cultural heritage of Dagestan and treats the lovely warm hat with respect. For Khabib, the hat has a very deep meaning – pride, honor, and gratitude.
The history of papakha
It is believed that the Dagestani piece of history and tradition that the former UFC 155-pound champion proudly wore every time he stepped into the spotlight appeared for the first time in the 16th century.
Historically, when a highlander took the papakha off his head, it meant the end of bloodshed between the clans. But it also served to woo a woman.
In ancient times, males were throwing the traditional hat through the window of the woman they intended to marry. If the lady kept the papakha, it signaled that she was interested in the marriage proposal.
Throughout history, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Russian Empire was having a hard time dealing with Chechens, Ingush, Balkars Abazins, and Dagestanis in the south.
Their resistance was heroic despite the fact that they were dealing with a much stronger enemy. It took the Russians a long time to defeat them.
Russian conquerors defeated the tough enemy in the 19th century, which led to the incorporation of the North Caucasus into the Russian Empire.
But the Dagestani people aggressively protected their heritage and autonomy. Papakha is one of the rare items to survive all of the purges.
It was worn by shepherds and mountain people in the first place. Yet, it was also seen among Cossacks (semi-military East Slavic group of “free men”) in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Cossacks later fought on the side of the Russian Empire, while their land was transformed into Military states, to help the Russian Empire defend from the enemy attacks.
The traditional hat later became the mandatory part of the Russian military uniform. Cossacks were removed during the 1917 revolution because they battled against Bolsheviks.
Yet, the hat was reinstated as a mandatory part of army clothing later. It was very popular among high-level generals in the Soviet era.
But it’s not a status symbol anymore. In the modern age, papakha is a common piece of clothing in the Caucasus region, especially among the descendants of mountaineers that reflects gratitude and respect.
Thanks to Khabib, the majority of collectors are ready to spend an enormous amount of money for high-quality papakha (Khabib’s hat) made of the finest karakul sheepskin.
But when it comes to Khabib, he’ll be remembered for the massive amount of respect and a part of his homeland.
Nowadays, UFC clothing rules are much more rigid due to various contracts with sponsors. Yet, they are willing to make an exception from time to time.
For example, the Indian-Canadian Octagon warrior Arjan Bhullar was cleared to wear the traditional turban at UFC on Fox 29.
Thanks to world-class popularity and flexible UFC politics in Nurmagomedov’s case, the whole MMA world got to learn the meaning and significance of a warm sheepskin and wool adjusted traditional Khabib’s hat from the Caucasus.