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'They didn't believe I was an athlete': Zabit talks MMA debut, Dagestan & popularity

UFC star Zabit Nurmagomedov, from Russia's Dagestan, has hit the radars of fight fans around the world after displaying his remarkable style in the octagon, but still little is known about the man himself. RT Sport steps in.

Talking to the featherweight division's newest star on his arrival back in Russia last week, we discussed his fighting plans and UFC 235 experience - which you can read about in the first part of our interview.

But, through a translator, we also snatched a moment to talk more about his personality and the beginning of his journey in martial arts. 

Also on rt.com 'I’m coming for Holloway soon': Russian UFC star Zabit Magomedsharipov on title plans (VIDEO)

In order to fight for the title, the UFC has to promote you and you have to speak English. How good is your English now? I know that you study English with a personal tutor. It is going well so far?

The UFC promotes me well. You have to show good fights or you have to talk well. Of course you have to bring something to the table. But yeah, they tell me about my English, they invite me to visit the States so I can study. But I am already studying. So I think maybe by the next year I will be speaking.

What does your coach Mark Henry say? Is he ok with your English? Or does he study Russian?

With Mark I've spoken English from the start, we've got our own language I would say, we understand each other very well.

Do you realize that your popularity now extends well beyond Dagestan?

I do feel it in the States, especially after my third (UFC) fight. Everywhere I go, to a store or to a mall, people recognize me, ask for photos. In Russia it was also after my third fight to be honest.

How do you feel about your popularity in general?

I’m calm. I’ve been in sport for a long time. I've got used to it. I competed for the Russian amateur MMA team. I've been doing sport ever since my childhood. I was always at training camps with the team, I got used to it. I don’t have any special emotions because I achieved something. I don’t have it.

Do you feel added responsibility because now there are a lot of young people following you in Russia and beyond?

Of course, it motivates me. I have to train more, train seriously, because people are following me, they care about me. Before, when I was amateur, it was about me, my friends and my family, to make them happy… now the whole of Russia is watching, supporting. So I will try hard for them.

When did you start following MMA? Was it a fighter or a tournament that got you interested?

To be fair I wasn’t following MMA originally, because I was a pure striker so I was watching K-1 fights on DVDs, Bard Hari and many others. I transferred when I decided to become a pro, after I became European Champion (in Wushu), I was about 22 years old then I had to make a decision. Around that time MMA was gaining popularity and I decided to try it. I did all right and step by step I got involved in it, and now I love it.

In one of your interviews you told a story about your debut, when the organizers of the tournament didn’t want to sign you because they didn’t believe you were an athlete. How often did people underestimate you?

When I was younger it happened all the time, because I was really skinny. This happened in Ukraine where our fellow Dagestanis were organizing a tournament. They thought it was a joke when my friends brought me there. I even had to do some sparring sessions so they would change their mind. But they were joking still, offering me two insurance contracts in case there were some serious consequences.

Was your calmness a part of your character originally? Or something else brought it to you? Maybe you learnt it in your Wushu school, Five Sides of the World?

I think I was born this way. And my family, first of all. Plus yes, I graduated the Five Sides of the World boarding school, then I moved to Makhachkala (Dagestan capital) and now I train on the Dagestan Fighter team. That’s where I start each of my training camps, before going for two months to train in the States. I try to take everything calmly, I’ve been this way ever since my childhood.

Apart from you, Five Sides of the World is represented in the UFC by welterweight Muslim Salikhov. Who else could you highlight who could make a statement in the UFC in the nearest future? Whethet it be from Five Sides of the World or your teammates from Dagestan Fighter.

There are people who I looked up to growing up, such as (PFL heavyweight) Bozigit Ataev. In the Dagestan Fighter team we've got a lot of talented fighters, Magomed 'Tiger' Magomedov, Timur Valiev, there are too many, I could go on and on.

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