‘I'd fight Holloway for the belt tomorrow if I got an offer’ – Zabit Magomedsharipov (VIDEO)
While former ACB champion Magomedsharipov, 27, doesn’t have the easiest name to pronounce for English speakers and doesn’t speak English himself, MMA fans are already well acquainted with one of the tallest featherweights in the UFC.
Following his latest victory in Brooklyn, New York, against American Kyle Bochniak, Magomedsharipov was forced to stay in the United States for a couple of weeks, as he injured his arm just minutes before his UFC 223 bout.
Coming back to Russia on Wednesday morning, the Dagestani agreed to catch up with RT Sport in Sheremetyevo Airport on his arrival for a short interview. Talking exclusively to RT Sport, the phlegmatic fighter admitted that he is only just getting used to the increased media attention surrounding him.
RT: It seemed like in your first two UFC fights you finished your opponents more or less quickly. But in your last bout you had to go all three rounds. Was Kyle Bochniak such a hard opponent for you?
Zabit Magomedsharipov: I wouldn't say that my first two UFC opponents were any less skilled than Bochniak. But he showed true character and high stamina. Honestly I expected him to fight like that. I watched his previous bouts, he fights for all three rounds quite often. And he is a very tough fighter.
RT: We know that you received a hand injury just before the fight during the warm-up. How much of an effect did it have in the fight?
ZM: Yes of course, because I couldn't squeeze my fist to apply hard hits. It wasn’t painful, but I couldn’t do certain things. And I had to use my left arm more than I planned.
RT: When the news about your injury emerged, there were fears that you had fractured your hand. But now your hand looks fine. What sort of injury was it?
ZM: No, I didn't have a fracture. I knew that something was wrong before the fight, but I didn't want to show any signs of trouble, as I could have been pulled out of the competition by the athletic commissioners. So I decided to fight without telling anyone about it. Then after the fight, we went to Las Vegas, to the UFC Performance Institute. The UFC fully sponsored me. We conducted all the necessary examinations over there, and I was told that I could get back to training in two weeks. So, fortunately, there was nothing serious with my hand.
RT: Bearing that in mind, when do you plan to come back to the octagon? We know that you’ve also signed a new contract with the UFC.
ZM: Yeah I’ve signed a new contract. It’s for four fights. I won’t tell you the sum (smiles) but the conditions have been improved. I’d like to come back to the cage in September to participate in the UFC event in Moscow, if it happens after all.
RT: Have you discussed the Moscow event option with the UFC?
ZM: Yes, we sat in their office and discussed that option of a bout in Moscow. If Yair Rodriguez agrees to fight against me, then we’ll meet in Moscow. If he declines our proposal, then I’ll most likely fight over in the US, because they [UFC] want me to fight on the main card of the pay-per-view events.
RT: What makes you want to fight Rodriguez?
ZM: I know that a lot of fans would want to see that fight. You know, I also read what people say in the comments. It would be an entertaining fight. We have a similar style, and I believe we’ll put on a great show. He used to be rated number seven [in the UFC rankings], now he’s number 11. And I’d want to go up in the rating also. If not him, I can take anyone from the top 15 or 10, I’d fight anyone.
RT: Do you know which other fighters from Russia could take part in the Moscow event?
ZM: There are many fighters who could compete there. I’ve heard about Rustam Khabilov. Zubaira Tukhugov wants to come back to fighting. Magomed Bibulatov has recently suffered a back injury, so depending on his recovery he also might fight in Moscow.
RT: But Tukhugov's disqualification will still be active in September…
ZM: Yes, but I’m not sure if the UFC determined the exact date of the tournament yet. If it’s staged in October, Tukhugov will be able to fight.
RT: Following your three victories you’ve become a much more popular fighter among fans and the media. How do you feel in the new role of an MMA star?
ZM: I haven't really adjusted yet. Honestly in the past I often refused to talk to the media, and I’m not a big fan of doing interviews. But, I'm trying to get used to this, because I know it's part of my job.
RT: The number of your fans has also substantially increased. Do you think you are ready to have the same amount of popularity as Khabib Nurmagomedov, with fans chasing you at all your public appearances?
ZM: You get used to new things little by little. Yes, fans have started to pay much more attention to me. I feel like after the third fight their number has drastically increased.
RT: Speaking English is also a very important part of being successful in the UFC. How’s your English at the moment?
ZM: Honestly, it’s not any good yet, but I'm learning. When I’m in the States, I'm always surrounded by my Russian teammates, and obviously we always speak Russian. But when you’re alone in a foreign country, you learn the language much quicker. When I was preparing for my second bout I was alone in the USA and the progress in learning English was much, much better. But when I'm together with my teammates, the learning process slows down right away.
RT: You posted an Instagram photo holding Khabib's championship belt. How did it feel to hold it?
ZM: I’ve already held belts before. I was an ACB champion and had a similar belt. But this time it was the most prestigious belt in the world, and what's more important, it belongs to my brother and fellow Dagestani, Khabib Nurmagomedov. I hope that one day I will have the same belt.
RT: Did you feel the difference between fighting in the UFC and ACB? Is there a difference in the levels?
ZM: Honestly, I don’t think it’s much different. There are good fighters [in both organizations]. You’re training, preparing for the fights. All is pretty much the same. Just in the UFC there are more fans, much more media and attention. But fights are fights.
RT: So do you think that the level of MMA events in Russia is getting closer to the UFC’s level?
ZM: Well it’s been on a good level for some time already. ACB, for example, stages high-level fights. I follow the ACB closely, and watch all of their events. So yes, the level of Russian MMA is definitely going up.
RT: If you were offered a title fight with Max Holloway right now, would you accept it?
ZM: Yes, right away! The belt is what I’m there for.
RT: What about your friend Frankie Edgar? You’re fighting in the same weight class. Would you consider a fight with him if the belt was on the line?
ZM: No, he’s like a big brother to me. We’re good friends, and I wouldn’t agree to fight him. We train together and help each other. Even the belt wouldn’t change my mind.
RT: Talking about training in the States. Is it much different from training in Russia?
ZM: It’s not really that different. The only difference is that in Russia people train harder, while in the States it’s more about an individual approach to each fighter. But other than that, it’s almost the same.
by Denis Geyko for RT Sport