‘McGregor has never felt anything like Khabib's control’ – Nurmagomedov's father on UFC 229
Reigning 155lbs king Nurmagomedov, undefeated in 26 professional bouts, is making his first title defense against McGregor, who is returning to action after a two-year break from the octagon.
The bout has been billed as the biggest in MMA history, and is seen by many as clash of styles between McGregor’s stand-up skills and punching power and Nurmagomedov’s unrivaled grappling.
There is considerable bad blood between the pair – with McGregor infamously attacking a bus containing the Russian fighter in April – and both fighters have said Saturday’s Vegas showdown is “personal.”
Nurmagomedov has been characteristically cool, calm and collected in the build-up in the face of typically incendiary antics from his Irish opponent - which continued when the challenger aimed a kick at the champion during the final face-off on Friday.
However, the Russian fighter will be without his father and coach on Saturday night, after Nurmagomedov Sr was refused a US visa – despite implorations from his son for UFC chief Dana White to take the issue up with President Donald Trump.
Nurmagomedov Sr will instead watch the fight from Dagestan along with thousands of locals who will be offering raucous support for their hero, even though the event will be taking place in the early hours of the morning due to the time difference.
Ahead of the bout, RT Sport travelled to the southern Russian region to speak exclusively to Nurmagomedov Sr about his son’s preparations for the bout, as well as his predictions on how things will pan out at the T-Mobile Arena on Saturday night.
This fight has been labeled by the majority of pundits and fighters as the biggest in MMA history. Looking back in time, would you ever have thought that one of your students would compete at this level?
When Khabib was about 17 years old he started talking about his dream of competing at big arenas with fans rooting for him. To be fair, back then I was laughing at him.
When did you realize that he could be successful in martial arts and become a professional fighter?
I think it was 10 years ago, when Khabib was 20, he was competing at a Sambo championship here in Dagestan. It was a very serious tournament with many Russian, world and European champions competing in it. He started winning fight after fight, finishing his opponents at the ends of the bouts. And he went all the way to the final, where he faced Rustam Khabilov (now also a UFC fighter). That was a big statement. And he proved a lot to me as well.
Khabib made weight hours before the weigh-in. It seems like he didn’t have any issues with the cut. Was that the case? Could you give us your insight?
The day before the weigh-in, his team asked me about what time they should make the weight before the weigh-in, and I said ‘four or five hours.’ They made it six hours before. It’s a bit earlier than we usually do. But we wanted to be sure this time.
What weight do you expect him to be when he steps in the cage?
I’d say 79 or 80 kilograms (174-176lbs).
Now, when Khabib is 30 years old, how much harder is it to cut weight for him, compared to when he was, say, 25?
Now he has experience, he has a professional team with him, but of course he doesn’t recover as quickly as he used to when he was younger. It’s a different story after the age of 28. And after 32 it will be even harder. So in the next two years we have to face all the opponents who are willing to fight him. He won’t be able to perform at this level for the next 10 years. It’s very hard work. It’s making weight, it’s fighting with the best fighters in the world. So I think he won’t stay in MMA for more than two years.
Khabib said when McGregor gets tired, he quits. In which round do you expect McGregor to tire and the fight to turn in Khabib’s favor?
Conor has never faced anyone like Khabib. What will happen to him at the end of the first round? By that time Khabib has to take him down twice. He has never faced this level of grappling, this level of control. He has never felt anything like that. Now he will feel it.
In your latest Instagram post you said that you’re glad that it will be a five-round fight. What did you mean by that?
Professionals will understand that. For everyone else it would take too long to explain.
Does it mean that Khabib wants to fight Conor all of the five rounds?
Not only Khabib. I want that as well.
All of the media activities are now behind the fighters, and the next time Khabib faces Conor it will be in the cage. Are you satisfied with how Khabib has acted all this time around Conor, and basically ignored all of his provocations?
We’ve seen everything we wanted to see from Khabib during the build-up: restraint, an icy look, and no backing down. Standing your ground. It will mentally break Conor.
Obviously you’ve had to do a lot of interviews with the media before that fight. Compared to Khabib’s previous fight, which was for the championship title, when did you have to do more media?
Fight after fight Khabib is attracting more and more attention. So obviously there’s more media this time. All the scandals also became a factor. You know, Conor does a lot of those things that attract media attention. But it’s not only working for him, it’s working for us as well. Bad PR is still PR, as they say. Although we want to be on the positive side of things. We want to see more kids in the gyms.
For you and for Khabib personally, which fight is more important: the title fight in April, or the title defense now with Conor?
When time passes and all the hype settles down, the first title fight will always be remembered as the most important one. It was the first UFC championship belt for Russia, and that was very important for us. But if we talk hype, attention and money, of course it’s the McGregor fight.