Khabib Nurmagomedov was walking through an airport in Dagestan seven years ago, on his way to catch a flight to the United States for his UFC debut, when he noticed a store selling unique souvenirs.
It was January 2012 and Nurmagomedov was about to board a flight from his homeland to Nashville, Tennessee. His then-manager, Sam Kardan, told him to bring something that would make him stand out in front of the U.S. audience. Nurmagomedov's friends suggested something that would be true to his heritage in Dagestan, a mountainous republic of Russia in the North Caucasus region. They told him he should wear a papakha, a traditional headdress worn by men -- often while going to war.
"UFC is very big stage, very big platform," Nurmagomedov said, recalling his friends' advice. "You can show around the world our culture."
So he bought one. And it has ended up being one of the most influential impulse purchases in UFC history. At the time, it seemed like Nurmagomedov was just plopping down about $50 for a hat at a nondescript airport gift shop. What he ended up purchasing was a tangible part of his identity. When many people hear his name, the first thing they think of is the large sheepskin hat. It has become an article of clothing of great significance.
"It's an honor to me to represent my traditional headgear around the world, my culture, my history," Nurmagomedov said. "... I have an opportunity. People know me and I want people to know where I am from. I want to show people Dagestan, Dagestan culture, Dagestan history, because we have very, very big history in Dagestan. If I have opportunity, why not? Why not?"