Khabib: The moment I knew I broke Conor
UFC light heavyweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov did an extended post-fight interview with Channel 1, Russia’s main state-owned television channel. ‘The Eagle’ was asked if he was serious about the UFC keeping his money and releasing him if they release Zubaira Tukhugov for his role in the UFC 229 post-fight melee
“I would even go as far as saying that I’m very serious,” said Khabib, as translated by Shoorik for Sherdog. “If you ask me about my purse and money in general, If a good person has a lot of money I don’t see nothing wrong with that, but is money the main thing in life? Not for me. In this fight the main thing for me was honor, honor of my family, honor of our homeland, that the opponent insulted. I didn’t think for a second that I was going out to some ‘competition’ or ‘even'”. I went in there to fight a war. I knew that someone will have to lose, but I was ready to go to the very end.”
Khabib then watched a clip of the meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
“It’s a big honor when Vladimir Vladimirovich congratulates you and congratulates you in person,” explained Khabib. “And also that he values the work you put in, not only the work that I’ve put in but also the work of my father. Because my father and I spent 25 years inside the gym, maybe even more. I can only remember myself from the time I was five years old, but my father actually told me that I took my first steps inside the gym, which means that I was there since I was 2 years old. We spent our whole life inside the gym. So I am very pleased that Vladimir Vladimirovich is supporting us, but I feel that the whole country showed us great support. Where every I go… to be honest I can barely find myself this last week. You know I have never been this famous person and all of this fame that fell over me is a little bit uncomfortable to be honest. But what can you do if you keep winning? It’s like [Coach Javier Mendez] says, you need to accept this.”
The champ then talked about his family.
“When I came home and saw that my son fell asleep on my belt, I think it’s a good sign,” he said. “He fell asleep while holding my belt, but he is not even one year old. I don’t think he understands what he is doing, but it’s still pleasing to see. Honestly, I wouldn’t want him to experience what I have experienced, because everyone thinks that being a professional athlete is so cool, but they don’t see what it takes to get there. Most people only see me for about 40 minutes from the walk out and during the fight. They don’t see the 25 years of hard work, all the surgeries that I’ve had on my knees, my back, my hand, ribs, how I almost died two years ago while cutting weight. People don’t see this, but it’s kind of dangerous also, people think that I’m a professional athlete, but at the same time I’m almost a disabled person – you are playing on the edge all the time. I would want him to compete in an Olympic sport, not professional sport, I am talking about a sport like boxing, judo, freestyle wrestling. Then we’ll see how things go, but without a doubt he will be training some kind of sport. Because our country needs tough guys who will defend the honor of their families and their country, especially now that Russia is becoming stronger and I know from my own experience that people start to dislike you when you become stronger. So our country needs strong guys and my son for sure will training.”
Khabib then discussed the mental side of sport generally, the fight vs. McGregor specifically, and this image:
“When you get face to face with your opponent, you can tell a lot from looking into the eyes of your opponent,” he said. “You can look at my face, because the eyes never lie. He can say what he wants, but look where he is looking and then look where my eyes are looking. Here I understood that I broke him. A person can say whatever he wants, but when you stand in front of him face to face, you can understand what is happening beneath.
“He never even looked me in the eyes. It was like he was looking me in the eyes, but he was never actually looking. I felt like he was looking somewhere here in the middle [Khabib points between his own eyes]. Somewhere around the eyes, he never looked right into my eyes. Not once did he look me in the eyes. Everything that happened, the press conference, weigh-ins, the open training, etc, the closer we got to the fight the more he broke. And when we were inside the cage before the fight, I looked him in the eyes, I looked at his state and his appearance and I saw that he is already broken. I turned to my brother and said this and he told me not to think that and that I should focus. I told him that it’s ok and that he shouldn’t worry.”
“Fear and anxiety those are two emotions that are related closely to each other. Anxiety is good, but if you are starting to experience fear, it’s the end. You can not control your emotions, your brain can’t give commands to your muscles. When you sense fear, many things in your body shut down, but out of anxiety my things start to function at a higher level. If you learn to control these emotions, you will be successful. You prepare for a fight for two months, training, cutting weight, but if you get out there and sense fear you lose everything. I got control of this area after many years, It didn’t come at once. You are not born with this, of course, you can be born champion material’ but to actually become a champion you have to work very hard. So work, experience and ability to listen and learn from your coaches.”
“Psychology is really important, it goes first, in second place comes the conditioning. If you are not mentally prepared your physical abilities won’t help you. This is how I prepare for a fight. Of course, I am worried, I would lie if I said that I didn’t worry with so many people watching. But I am not worried that someone will hit me, break a bone, I have gone beyond these pain thresholds a long time ago. I am worried that I might perform badly and not show my best side. I don’t want to lose, as a man, I just don’t want to lose. How do I stay mentally stable, It’s my faith that helps me through wins and loses.”
Khabub also discussed the lead up to the fight.
“You have to give credit to Conor, he is very popular,” conceded Khabib. “Was I as popular as him before the fight? I think not. As an athlete, I already proved that I am better then him, but when it comes to the popularity he is a lot more colorful then I am. Don’t know how it looks now, but before the fight it was that way.
“Second thing, this was a competition between two countries, that’s for sure. Do you remember when I said, the Irish are only 6 million but in Russia we are 150 million? I didn’t mean to offend anybody with this. I said this after my fight in Madison Square Garden when he fought in the main event. I became the number 1 contender, but the crowd booed me, because they didn’t want their hero to be locked up in a cage with me. That’s when I told them that they are only 6 million and there are 150 million of us and we’ll see who’s the best.
“This was also a competition between two cultures. His culture and my culture, how I hold myself and his behavior. People were very interested in this. And of course, the incident that is up until now unheard of in martial arts, what they did in Brooklyn when they attacked the bus. They could have killed two people, one could have been blinded since he got glass in his eyes and another one was cut by the glass. The whole world watched this. And you know what, I was upset by the UFC about how they promoted this fight. That they used the bus incident to sell the fight. I asked God to let us be locked up in that cage so we could find out who is who. Who is really sitting scared on the bus and who doesn’t.”
“I had a camp consisting of 20 people with me [for the Iaquinta fight]. We have rented our own bus go get to practice and back. You know what’s interesting? UFC told me that day that I must ride alone for the media day. So I didn’t go with my team, I went with all the fighters from the red corner. I had with me two people, one of my guys and my manager. Look at this carefully, the bus is going out and all of a sudden it stops and backs up. Why? We were almost out. Now you see that the crowd is running at us. What is the bus driver doing? He is supposed to just get out of here, but he stops and goes back.
“I have many questions about that whole situation. I don’t know if UFC planned this or not. So they started attacking the bus from all sides, there were about 20 of them. And there were about 10 guards from UFC and most of them are going after Conor. I’m about 70% certain that it was all planned by the UFC. I wanted to get out, this is confirmed by all the fighters that were on the bus. This whole incident lasted about 1.5 – 2 minutes.
“This incident leaves me with a lot of questions.
“I would like to point another thing out. In 2013 me and him we texted each other. I even still have this conversation, we communicated normally. So when this all happened, if he would have wanted to find me, why didn’t he text me? He could have told me, ‘Hey you stepped over the line and we need to sort something out.’ Well now you flew out here, why do you come to brawl with cameras. He actually came with his own cameras. He has a whole PR-team that follows him around and films him.
“Another thing – this was at the Barkleys center, it is huge, it’s a 20,000 people arena. How could they have known where we were at that time? That’s the first question. The second question is who let them inside the arena? When 20-30 angry people walk inside the arena, the UFC staff should have stopped them, since Conor didn’t have any business being at that media day event. What are they doing here? Who are they looking for? Nobody know. UFC staff just escorts them through a bunch of corridors straight to our bus. You know, many people think I’m dumb because I’m an athlete, but I am also educated and my brain functions well. During my 15 years in fighting, I haven’t taken too many punches. So my brain functions well and I’m able to think for myself.”
Khabib also addressed the UFC 229 post-fight melee, and the potential dismissal of his teammate Zubaira Tukhugov for his part.
“I have voiced my terms to them (UFC),” he said. “Can you imagine this, you are going to war, and a man who follows you to harm has been harmed. You have won the war, you can go home and take a sleep, but that man who followed you is still harmed. That’s not how a man acts and it’s not how I act. I told them that if you want to ban him, fire him or whatever, you are going to lose me 100%.
“You know, I think that a man, and this is a little sad, not always has a chance to distinguish himself. To show the person that you are and the values that you represent. To be a man in our day and age is very hard. I told them… they already started to negotiate my next fight… I told them no, wait, slow down. You punished my team and you want me to negotiate with you? That will never happen. This is what we will do, everything is going to be alright with my team. Because we didn’t start this, we ended this. Don’t get the stuff confused. We are Sambo guys, Sambo stands for Samooborona biz oruzhiya [Self-defense without weapons], we didn’t come with weapons. We went out against guys who are as prepared and well trained as we are and stood up for our honor. And now you pay them off, give them their purse, money and send them home and try to push all the blame on our team? This will never happen.
“If you want to… don’t want to curse… but if you do bad things like this, we will not partake in this, handle your business do whatever you want, but don’t call me about the next fight. Until you sort out all the problems of my team, my brothers, don’t call me at all.”
The champ was asked if vaulting the Octagon was a mistake.
“Deep down inside I feel it was a mistake,” he conceded. “Whatever happens, we shouldn’t behave like them [Conor and his camp hangers on]. But after all I wanted to let them know… I don’t know… I have conflicting feeling about this, but I am leaning towards that this was a mistake.”
One of the Russian journalists asked about an article that said Khabib was not Russian, and he’s living in California.
“I have come here to talk about my fight and not some statements written in some newspaper,” Khabib replied. “If you have run out of subjects and you want to discuss things that are unpleasant to me, you are mistaken. I won’t do it.”
Khabib later returned to the subject as it was awkwardly hanging there.
“The thing you discussed before. Some newspaper says I’m not Russian, I’m Dagestani, I live in California somewhere,” he said. “I’m not going to discuss this stuff, I live in the mountains of Dagestan. I have a house there, we’re building another house at the moment. I know who I am. Whatever I say, there will always be people who dislike me, and they will be taking stabs at me. I will say one thing, I have a Russian passport, so leave those provocational questions be.
“in 1998 my father moved from our village to the city (Makhachkala, capital of Dagestan). We were 16 brothers. Some were going to school, some to university and some were studying in college. We had army discipline in the house. And because of this, like 800 brothers, we were very tight knit. We had a day to day schedules, we had guys who were ‘in charge’ duty. We had no mother or sisters who could help around the house, we did it all by ourselves. We lived like this for eleven years inside one house. From this house we have five world champions, a UFC champion, and a father who is a distinguished Russian coach.