'He’s not fighting because of the money': Ex-coach reveals secrets of Khabib's success (VIDEO)
Murat Keshtov has trained many a Russian fighter, but the day that he first set eyes on current UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov he recalls realizing that he was working with one of the sport's rarest talents.
Although he has lived in the United States for a quarter century, Keshtov's past very much defines his future. Keshtov runs the K Dojo Warrior Tribe gym in Fairfield, New Jersey, a facility which has seen several Russian fighters take steps towards successful combat careers.
One of them, of course, was particularly memorable.
"I have had a lot of students but from the guys who made it to the top now, of course, Khabib is one of them," Keshtov explained to RT Sport on the sidelines of UFC St. Petersburg recently.
"Actually, his first steps in MMA started in our gym in New Jersey."
By the time Nurmagomedov made it to the US, he had compiled a 16-0 record in organizations in or around Russia. A lack of competition mandated a move to competing Stateside, after what remains his last fight in Russia in October 2011.
It was soon evident to Keshtov that someone with special skills had entered his gym.
"I always knew this guy had something special because of not only the talent, but the hard work and discipline. I knew that persistence, that consistency and that discipline, it will get him one day to become a champion," Keshtov said.
"He stayed in my house actually at the beginning for a few weeks until we got some apartment. During that time we got to know each other. We used to watch the fights. What impressed me was that he knew all the fighters. He knew their statistics. He was like a regular MMA fan ... you could tell he was so into this.
"Khabib knew where he was going, he knew what he wants."
One aspect of Nurmagomedov's character that impressed Keshtov was his grounded nature, and the fact that he was driven by competition, rather than money.
While some figures in the combat sports realm flaunt their wealth and brag about their earnings, Keshtov said money was never the major driving force behind Nurmagomedov's career during their time together.
"The money [was] not as important at this point. He was always this type of a guy who was not fighting because of the money," he explained.
"He wants to achieve the glory of being a champion, but not necessarily some crazy amount of money. And he himself mentioned that in a few interviews."
Another key attribute that marked out Nurmagomedov as a potential world champion at the time was his winning mentality.
"Khabib doesn't like to lose," Keshtov explained.
"It doesn't have to be an exciting win. But he needs to win. That's his mentality, and that helps him keep that undefeated record. He'll do whatever it takes.
"In this sport, MMA, 90 percent is mental. So if you're mentally focused and prepared, and you have that spirit, you'll be successful.
"But if you have the talent, but you don't have the discipline and the mental preparation, it's going to be very tough."
Keshtov's alliance with Khabib lasted through his first UFC fight, against Kamal Shalrous in 2012, but tensions emerged ahead of Nurmagomedov's next fight with Gleison Tibau.
"We did one camp, one fight. We started the second camp to fight Tibau but after that we had some issues inside the team, with ourselves. That involved Khabib. He ended up leaving in the middle of this conflict, which paved the way for his entry in the American Kickboxing Academy.
"Of course, I [understood] his situation. He [had] huge potential to become who he is right now. I really didn't want him to be part of the conflict, that would be a setback for him.
"I explained to him the situation: 'I have connections to this good camp. They have good wrestlers.' DC [Daniel Cormier], [Cain] Velasquez, these guys were there. I don't know the main coach but I know King Mo who trains there occasionally, he's a good friend of mine.
"He finished his camp over there and he did the fight over there."Also on rt.com UFC confirms Abu Dhabi event as news of Khabib return appears imminent
To this point, 27 men have attempted to best Khabib Nurmagomedov in the cage and each and every one of them has proved unsuccessful. The UFC lightweight champion has recently suggested that his career is coming to a close, but Keshtov suspects that, if he does opt to keep competing year after year, there won't be anyone with the arsenal needed to defeat him.
"Anything is possible but to be honest, in the 155lb division I think he is there for a long time," Keshtov said. "He will stay there for a long time. All the guys who come into the top 10, or top five even, they are good but stylistically not good versus him.
"Styles make fights. If you look at stylistics, he is a very, very hard opponent for any of those guys from top 10, top five."
Nurmagomedov remains under suspension from the Nevada Athletic Commission for his part in inciting the post-fight brawl following his victory against Conor McGregor last October - a continuation of a months-long feud which continues to boil over.
As Keshtov suggests, Nurmagomedov's background very much influenced his course of action when faced with verbal bombardment courtesy of the Irish former UFC double champion.Also on rt.com 'I have to maul this guy': Khabib Nurmagomedov says he's ready to battle Dustin Poirier in September
"First of all, including myself, we all come from the Caucasus. Certain things we take very seriously. I live in the United States for 25 years, until this day it is still in me, the influence of where I come from. One of the things is that [if] you say something, you have to do it. Don't brag about things. Be humble.
"Never disrespect anybody and if someone disrespects you, you have to always respond. My point is, for some guys, this is a show but for some guys they take it to heart.
"When you come from a background like this you have to stand up for your honor, discipline and respect. These things come first."