Khabib Nurmagomedov on his UFC242 Abu Dhabi fight: “the fire inside me is still burning”
“When you have a tough life, a hard life. Success becomes very easy because you have motivation, you’re hungry,” says Khabib Nurmagomedov, narrating his promo video ahead of UFC 242.
“I don’t fight for the money. I fight for my legacy. I fight for history. I fight for my people”.
Nurmagomedov has one of the longest unbeaten records in the history of fight sports (27-0), and yet when he climbs into the octagon this weekend in Abu Dhabi, the Russian may well be in for the battle of his life.
On Saturday the 30-year-old Dagestan native goes up against Dustin Poirier; a man with one of the best resumes in UFC.
Just to get to Nurmagomedov, Poirier had to beat three former and one current UFC champion. “If I go out there and stop Nurmagomedov,” says Poirier to MMA Fighting’s Damon Martin, “then I am the best lightweight fighter to ever strap on a pair of four-ounce gloves. Simple and plain.”
Expectations of Nurmagomedov are naturally, enormously high. Nurmagomedov isn’t just defending his crown as the most dominant mixed martial arts fighter on the planet, but as the physical manifestation for an entire generation of people.
“In my house I have a gym, and father trains everyone who wants. Everyone in the village who wants to train. So it’s not like I have been training for five years, or ten years. I have been training ever since I can remember. I train hard. And I think that’s why I’m here”
While unknown outside of the fight world, last October’s merciless mauling of Conor McGregor at UFC 229 (and resulting drama) made him a trophy for the Muslim community worldwide. The win launched him into the stratosphere of global recognition, and that’s something Nurmagomedov doesn’t take lightly.
“Usually, I don’t feel a lot of crazy support from fans inside the arena,” said Nurmagomedov discussing how fighting in the UAE will differ from the US. “But right now I feel like a lot of people are going to support me. And I’m very excited about this. Because I want to feel to it, how I’m going to feel when everybody supports me.”
“I think almost 90 per cent inside the arena because there'll be a lot of my friends from Russia, from Dagestan, fans from here in the Emirates, Arabic countries, Middle East, and I’m very excited about this.”
Despite the ugly scenes surrounding the end of UFC 229 (which saw Nurmagomedov suspended and two of his teammates arrested) his reputation according to the 1.5 billion Muslims of the world has remained untarnished. He is a respectful and humble athlete; and one who seems more interested in the competition, than the fame and fortune of being in the global spotlight.
“It’s crazy. What do I need now? I have the belt, I defended my title. I’m famous, I have money, so a lot of people ask me, why are you here?” said Nurmagomedov. “They don’t understand one thing about me – what’s inside. Fire.”
“When I train, I don’t train to be famous. I train to compete with the best fighters in the world. And all that famous stuff gets in the way. It makes it a little bit hard to be ready for this fight.”
“All my life, I have competed against others, and I want to continue doing so. I have a big fire inside me, and I want to continue going up against the best fighters in the world. I am not interested in being the best fighter from my country.”
“There are seven billion people on earth, and I want to be the best.”
But he’ll face stiff competition with Poirier. Over the last year, he has slowly but steadily risen through the ranks, with one goal in mind: Nurmagomedov.
“What I’ve had to go through to get to this point. And then the guy I am fighting, the undefeated champion. Maybe someone who has never lost a round. That’s like a Rocky movie," said Poirier.
Poirier is looking to make history by becoming the first man to beat Nurmagomedov. “When I go out there and beat Khabib, it’s not a question of am I the best UFC lightweight?” said Poirier to BT Sports, “It’s a question of am I the best lightweight to ever fight in mixed martial arts with the run I’m on. Max Holloway, Anthony Pettis, Eddie Alvarez, Khabib Nurmagomedov, winning over those guys in a row in main events, over and over, that’s the best run in lightweight history.”
Now I feel I am a much better a fighter, a much better person. And with every year I become older, but my mind changes in a good way. Religion helps me get through. And my parents.
While Poirier is out for blood, Nurmagomedov is fighting for something more than fame. “When you love your country, when you love your people, they give you respect. They love you back. That’s a whole different feeling.”
So what can we expect from Saturday’s UFC fight? Poirier will be looking to use his superior striking ability, and keep the centre of the octagon. But Khabib simply wants to wear him out. “When I go in the cage, I am going to make him tired.”
“He’s going to be under a lot of pressure, and I am going to enjoy that with my friends, with my father, with my coach. I want to show a great performance. My plan, I want to finish him.”
“I want to put on a show.”
You can catch the entire UFC 242 and the main card events via UFCArabia.com for a monthly subscription.