'McGregor has solid grappling skills': BJJ black-belt Magomadov on Conor sparring session (VIDEO)
After Conor McGregor cranked up the anticipation ahead of his UFC return by posting footage of himself training, RT Sport has gained an exclusive insight into the Irishman’s preparations from sparring partner Ayub Magomadov.
With less than a month to go before McGregor faces Khabib Nurmagomedov in what has been dubbed the biggest fight in UFC history, the pair are not shying away from exchanging blows before they even get into the cage.
It's no surprise as the stakes are higher than ever before, with the pair not only meeting for the Russian fighter’s lightweight belt – legacy and pride will also be on the line when they clash in the UFC 229 main event fight in Las Vegas on October 6.
McGregor is well-known for verbal attacks on his opponents before fights, and is making no exception for Nurmagomedov, with statements about the Russian’s father, friends and sparring partners – all of which are clearly aimed at unsettling the undefeated native of Dagestan.
At the end of August, McGregor also made an Instagram post featuring a photo of one of his sparring partners for the upcoming fight. And, just as his arch rival, the man in the photo was from Russia.
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I have true respect for the Vainakh soldier. Eye to eye respect. Always be aware that when respect is given out of fear, it is fake. It is the cowards safest first step towards treason. When land is on the line, there are no limits. So there must be no hesitation. Stand strong and stay ruthless! Forever and always 🇮🇪 🇷🇺 ⚔️ Thank you, Ayub. Proper fighting.
The man in that post – whom McGregor labeled a “Vainakh soldier” (Vainakh is the name for the pan-ethnicity that Chechens belong to) adding “true respect” – was Auyb Magomadov, a 29-year-old native of Grozny, Chechnya, and a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) black belt.
The post – and Magomadov’s presence at McGregor’s side – stirred considerable anger, with some questioning how a man from Russia’s Chechen Republic could help a future opponent of Dagestan’s Nurmagomedov.
However, Magomadov, who lives and trains in Moscow, says that he took the offer strictly from a business perspective, and that he wasn't aiming to take any side in the confrontation between the fighters and their fans.
“I was contacted by email, through my manager. They were searching for a guy for a sparring session. And that’s it. I arrived there, we did MMA sparring. That was what they wanted me for. So I did my job, and went back to Moscow,” Magomadov told RT Sport.
"To be honest, I wasn’t expecting Conor to post that photo with me. But I wasn’t surprised with that negative reaction – I am an adult man. I would say it felt like a useful experience for me to see the negative side of the situation, to see all those haters around. I have learned a lot from that."
Magomadov also took the chance to address Russian MMA fans, some of whom offered support, while others sent a barrage of insults on social media.
“I felt like I needed to explain the situation. It was not about doing something wrong and making excuses. Not at all. It is my job, and I am not here to make friends, it is just the fight business. I need to feed my family, and become a better fighter – and I really learned a lot from Conor and his coaches. What if they call me again for a sparring session? – I will do it again. If you want to be a good fighter you need to train with good fighters. And it takes training with great fighters to become a great fighter. So if you have such a great chance you have to go for it. Despite all the negative feedback and haters."
While Nurmagomedov is widely considered to be the top active UFC fighter when it comes to the ground game, Magomadov says that McGregor could also enjoy success on the floor against Khabib.
“What I can say is (McGregor) is a great, great professional, who can do anything. He is good in every aspect of the game. For sure you have some areas where you can be called an expert. He is an expert in striking, but he has pretty good wrestling, he has really good BJJ. He is a two-weight class world champion – what more can I say?
“He is a really solid brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, for sure. I wouldn’t be surprised if he can do that. Because he is a great champion. So he is working in every area, he has really big experience in every aspect of the game. His BJJ, what can I say – he is training in Gi and No Gi. In-between the fights he trains a lot in Gi. That means that you put really big attention to your ground game, when you train in a Gi. I think he is really really good in BJJ. I think if whoever wins (this fight) it won’t be a decision (victory).”
Despite the fact that the Irishman is well known for his sharp tongue in the MMA community, Magomadov praised his real-life personality, as well as that of the members of the Straight Blast Gym, McGregor’s famous training ground, some of whom are also Russian-speakers.
“Conor is a very respectful and humble guy, without any 'star fever.' He was very respectful to me. He was just like a normal guy from the dojo. All the guys from his gym were respectful, were nice. His coach John (Kavanagh) is a nice person. Really nice head of this team, really respectful. It was great to know him.
"His (McGregor’s) wrestling coach Sergey (Pikulskiy) is a nice guy. Nerijus (Gulbinas), his BJJ coach, is a nice guy. We were talking a lot (with Pikulskiy and Gulbinas), because they are from (the former) Soviet Union, so we are like relatives. So it was really nice to talk with them. How they see the world, you know? So it was a really nice experience.”
Magomadov, who has now gained the attention of the Russian MMA media, as well as some international outlets, says he is also keen to challenge himself in mixed martial arts, and that some organizations have already expressed interest.
"My manager is exploring options in this respect and we have been in touch with several MMA promotions for quite a while. Basically, I started thinking over my professional MMA career long before I gained some publicity with the McGregor sparring. However, this situation has boosted some more interest from different promoters. It just works like that. If you are a sparring partner of Conor McGregor it brings more attention to yourself in this business. So I am convinced, sooner or later it is going to happen. There are some organizations that want me to sign with them right now."
by Denis Geyko (Follow on Twitter)