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19 Aug, 2021 13:39

Seeing red: Nurmagomedov likens Zidane’s World Cup final headbutt to his McGregor cage climb as ex-UFC champ chats MMA & football

Seeing red: Nurmagomedov likens Zidane’s World Cup final headbutt to his McGregor cage climb as ex-UFC champ chats MMA & football

UFC great Khabib Nurmagomedov has linked the criticism Zinedine Zidane copped for his dismissal in the World Cup final to the flak the Russian received for scaling the cage after beating Conor McGregor.

Huge football fan Nurmagomedov says he has sympathy with Zidane over one of the most memorably violent incidents ever to have taken place during a match, when the France legend lost his head with Italy's Marco Materazzi in the closing moments of the 2006 World Cup final and butted the defender to the turf.

Nurmagomedov was also involved in an incendiary incident on a huge sporting occasion when he scaled the cage after beating bitter rival Conor McGregor at UFC 229 in October 2018, with the scene swiftly descending into a riot.

Russian icon Khabib has now explained that he had to stick up for himself following a vile trash-talking campaign from 'Notorious' and his cronies, but did accept why there might have been eyebrows raised while drawing comparisons to Zizou's red card, when he is thought to have been provoked by Materazzi insulting his sister.

"I haven't discussed this much with anyone," Khabib said, discussing the differences between two of the sports he loves during a candid press conference in which he also warned that he could have killed McGregor.

"In MMA, you represent yourself, and in football – especially at the World Cup – you represent the whole country.

"If Materrazzi said something rude to Zidane, you have the right to defend yourself.

"On the other hand, that act affects the country. Many people also criticized me for jumping out of the cage, but they were not in my place."

A keen follower of the Russian national side, Nurmagomedov was also probed on Valeri Karpin's recent replacement of the fighter's friend, Stanislav Cherchesov, as manager following a poor performance at Euro 2020 this summer.

"I have a good relationship with Cherchesov," Khabib admitted, praising the departed coach for leading Russia to the World Cup quarterfinals on home soil three years ago.

"He had a peak in 2018 – Russia's best achievement – but the Euro slump is not only his fault. Now Karpin has come in and new energy is needed."

This has perhaps already been reflecting by Karpin axing stars including captain Artem Dzyuba, who is the country's all-time joint top scorer, from his first squad for three World Cup qualifiers in seven days, starting when they host Croatia, who knocked them out of that World Cup, on September 1.

Also on rt.com 'It's better than Messi!' Russian 3rd-tier football club in Dagestan hint at signing Khabib in bid for Russian Cup glory

Nurmagomedov is interested to see what other changes might lie ahead while also recalling the new coach's time as a player in La Liga from the late 1990s to the early 2000s.

"He has called up other people but I'm curious. I remember how he played for Celta. I am waiting in anticipation and look forward to the match with Croatia – playing with them will clearly show our level," Khabib predicted.

Nurmagomedov played down stories that he will sign for Russian side Makhachkala, adding that he has "friendly relations" with the club and supports them.

"I don't have such a plan to debut for them," he clarified. "One or two people from my team can play. I did not sign the contract. I can go there at any time but it will depend on the situation."

Also on rt.com Russia shock: New boss Karpin axes captain Dzyuba from national squad a day after champs Zenit ditch skipper from starting lineup