Cousin reveals Khabib’s coaching approach as he charts path to UFC glory
Umar Nurmagomedov will look to continue his family's fighting legacy this weekend when he takes on the dangerous American Nate Maness in Las Vegas, and in his bid to make a true impact on the sport he is making use of the tutelage of his champion cousin.
It must be something of a blessing and a burden to be a prizefighter with the Nurmagomedov name. Khabib, the first man to carry the now famous surname to the UFC cage, created a new era of dominance in mixed martial arts, defeating all 29 of the opponents placed in front of him in a career which is now firmly enshrined in the history books.
Like Khabib, Umar also boasts an unbeaten career record (14-0) and wears the iconic Papakha on his walk to the cage - but that is where the comparisons largely end.
Seven year's Khabib's junior, Umar can legitimately boast an impressive submission game (look at his record for evidence of this) but his striking is arguably at a higher level than his cousin's when he was of similar age.
Umar's career thus far has shown no signs of him being weighed down by the burden of expectation.
His two wins in the Octagon to date have been authored with the type of dominance one would expect given his last name - and while the 135lbs fighter is very much forging his own path in the sport, he still has some of that confidence which was evident in Khabib's early years as he worked his way through the rankings.
“I think I’m ready for these guys,” Umar said this week of the challenges which await him in the UFC's bantamweight fold.
“I don’t want to push, but if they give me a top 15, anybody, I’m ready. I know this. I can compete with those guys. But I don’t know who they’ll put me against after this fight. We’ll see.
“I am 26 years old. By the age of 28, if I become a champion, this will be enough for me,” he added, via TASS.
“By this time, I will get even stronger, I hope to have two or three five-round fights. I will need experience in such fights. Such a plan.”
Umar's confidence in his own abilities appears justified. For many fighters drafted into the UFC, this is their first experience of being a small fish in a big pond and can be a steep learning curve from the regional scenes from which they graduate.
But Umar has spent a lifetime alongside Khabib, as well as the likes of Islam Makhachev, as part of the assembly line of Dagestani fighting talent fostered by Khabib's late father Abdulmanap.
Nowadays, Khabib acts as Umar's coach - but the apple certainly hasn't fallen too far from the tree.
“[Khabib] has strictness from his father,” Umar explained to TASS.
“It seems to me that he is more strict, because Khabib himself went through all this. He knows what and how to do it. We have nothing against it, we do everything he says.”
If Umar's win streak continues unimpeded, it will place him on a collision course with the UFC's elite fighters at 135lbs. Aljamain Sterling currently holds the belt, and the chasing pack includes Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo as well as the likes of T.J. Dillashaw, Petr Yan and Jose Aldo.
But as far as Umar's US-based coach Javier Mendez says, these are all just formalities.
“He will beat everyone [in his division],” Mendez said. “He could fight for the title now, but it’s best to get him a few more fights to get him some experience.
“He will become successful and he 100 percent has the mindset to [deal with comparisons to Khabib],” Mendez added.
“Khabib, Umar and Islam didn’t need my help with mental training out of the Dagestan crew.”
But one suspects that, if and when Umar navigates a path to a UFC title opportunity, it will be on his own merit. With gold on the line and at the highest level of the sport, last names don't mean much.
But that trademark confidence makes it appear that it is just a matter of time.
“I want to move quickly," Umar stated.
“But we have to see how it’s going to be, who [the UFC] puts against me. They choose. I have to show my skills and I have to show how I can fight and put on good performances. That’s it. I have to do my job and they have to do their job.”
And when this happens, Umar Nurmagomedov will truly have emerged from his cousin's shadow.