If Conor McGregor returns to MMA after his blockbuster boxing match with Floyd Mayweather Jr., one of the most interesting options for him would be a fight with undefeated Russian contender Khabib Nurmagomedov.
In the opinion of McGregor’s training partner and friend, Russian-born Irishman Artem Lobov, there could be no better setting for this fight than the MMA-obsessed country of Russia.
“Every time I go to Russia I get the feeling that [MMA] is the biggest sport in the country right now,” Lobov told Peter Carroll of MMAFighting. “It’s the coolest sport at the moment. Men and women love it. It’s become mainstream and there are a number of reasons for that.”
“A personality like Conor’s appeals to the Russian people a lot,” he continued. “He’s always ready to go, he knocks people out and he’s tough. Obviously, Fedor Emelianenko is a huge national treasure. The president, Vladimir Putin, is a huge fan of his and the sport in general.
“All of these things have made the sport very important over there, and as a result of that, MMA is very popular. When you have a sport that is so popular and a guy like Conor is at the top of his game, that provides the fans with a lot of talking points. He is the guy that everyone knows over there.”
“When I talk to Russian fighters when I’m over there they are very thankful and complimentary of Conor. They see him as one of the main factors behind MMA becoming mainstream in Russia. The pay for most fighters has increased as the popularity of MMA has increased. They are definitely feeling the McGregor effect in the East.”
Lobov then weighed the popularity of Conor McGregor against that of Khabib Nurmagomedov in Russia. He believes Nurmagomedov’s popularity can be largely attributed to McGregor.
“It would be very hard to say who would be the bigger draw in Russia between Khabib and Conor. I honestly feel that Khabib is as big as he is in Russia because of Conor McGregor,” Lobov said.
“As I said, Conor is the guy who has made MMA a hot topic in Russia. More and more Russians started watching the UFC when Conor came along. The more they watched, the more they understood it. Then, all of a sudden you get this Russian guy coming along and of course the Russian people put their support behind him.”
While Nurmagomedov is loved in Russia, Lobov explained this frequent withdrawals from fights might have hurt his rep.
“A lot of people in Russian aren’t happy with how Khabib has been behaving with all of his pullouts,” Lobov said, “This isn’t a very manly thing to do, not showing up for a fight. In Russia, the people have been brought up tough. It used to be the Soviet Union. The thing everybody thinks of when they think about Russia is how tough the people are.”
Do you want to see Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov fight in Russia?
This article first appeared on BJPenn.com on 8/20/2017.