‘Conor is very popular, but if we talk fans I have more’ – UFC’s Nurmagomedov (RT EXCLUSIVE VIDEO)
Dagestan native Nurmagomedov, nicknamed “The Eagle,” has gained equal fame and notoriety among MMA fans for his unblemished 24-0 record inside the octagon, his outward criticism of UFC and for wearing his signature “papakha” - the wool headwear native to his Caucasus homeland - during walkouts and weight-ins.
Nurmagomedov also proudly carries the expectation of his legion of Russian fans, and believes their support is one of the key advantages he has over others in his weight division, not least the flash, brash two-weight champion McGregor.
“I have a very big fan base. And this is what I represent – Russia,” Nurmagomedov told RT Sport in an exclusive interview.
“And I have fans outside Russia as well.”
“Conor [McGregor] is a popular guy. But if we talk about fans, I think I have more fans than him. Much more.
“If we have 6 million people in Ireland. What are we talking about?
“I have 150 million only in Russia. But if we talk about Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan.
“Everywhere. Bahrein, Saudi Arabia, Turkey.”
Throngs of Khabib's fans descended on Moscow’s famous VDNH exhibition and amusement park to catch a glimpse of their hero, where Nurmagomedov held an autograph session last Saturday.
Thousands surrounded Khabib’s stand, with a lucky few being able to join “The Eagle” on stage for a selfie and a signed picture.
Event organizers took into account experience of previous Khabib’s autograph session, that was organized by Reebok in May, and resulted in destroying of one of their Moscow stores, as security was not organized on the needed level.
At the end of the session Khabib thanked his fans from the stage, saying: “I don’t know how to express with the words how grateful I am to see you all coming here.
“What I can do is to work hard to keep delighting all Russian MMA fans, and everybody who supports me around the world.”
After the session was over, the current number one ranked lightweight in the world, Nurmagomedov spoke to RT Sport exclusively, sharing thoughts on rumors about possible UFC event in Russia as well his experience of UFC 205.
RT: Dana White said he is looking to visit Russia this month. Has he or anyone from UFC ever reached out to you in that regard?
Khabib Nurmagomedov: I don’t really believe Dana White; sometimes he talks trash, sometimes he talks truth. But if he wants to come to Russia and make a show – that’s a very good idea. Because we have a very big fan base here. If UFC wants to come to here in 2017 – I want to fight in Russia.
RT: What do you think UFC in Russia will look like? In terms of the size of the event and fight card?
KN: I think there’s gonna be some big fights. It could be Russian fighters against the world. Or against US. Maybe against Brazil. I think that would be a very good idea. If UFC makes this show in 2017, I want to fight in Russia - that’s my dream.
KN: I felt good. Because when the cage closes it’s all the same: you and your opponent, one referee. But I think UFC put me on prelims [preliminary fight card] because they don’t want to make me bigger. They have to take care of Conor [McGregor]. They just don't promote me.
RT: You were talking to Dana White in between rounds. What was that about?
KN: I told him: “Hey! I have to fight for the title and you know this. Don’t send me bullsh*t fake contracts. You have to send me a real one.” He said, “You have to finish this fight.” I said, “Don’t worry. This fight is finished already.” And after second round, I said, “Hey! I’m gonna smash your boy! Be careful. You have to stay careful. Because I’m gonna smash him.”
But I enjoyed it. I enjoyed fighting in Madison Square Garden. Biggest arena, biggest show at UFC 205. A lot of people watching. I talked with Michael Johnson. I talked to Dana White. I liked it.
RT: You come from a SAMBO background. Do you think it gives you an advantage? Maybe it’s your secret weapon given that non-Russian fighters aren’t familiar with it?
KN: I don’t think that I only have SAMBO experience [in my arsenal]. I have it all mixed. That’s why for UFC’s lightweight division my style is very hard. Because I have pressure, I can take you down – body, single leg, double leg. I have very good conditioning. I know this. To stop me with my style my opponent needs to knock me out.
RT: You’ve been talking a lot about Conor McGregor. Tell us more, what do you think of him?
KN: Conor is a very good striking guy – everybody knows this. Good boxing, good timing. His counter-punches are very good. But everybody knows I have a very good top control, wrestling, pressure. Why would I fight in a stand up with him? I’m gonna take him down, I’m gonna slap him, make him nervous, talk with him, and make him give up.