This article is one small piece of an ongoing effort by The MMA UnderGround to understand what really works in martial arts. The focus is not on what happens in the arena, but rather, what happens on the street. If you enjoyed it, check out more stories on:
1. Martial Arts on The Street
2. Mutual Combat
3. Dojo Storms
Earlier this year I was at an airport in Central Asia talking shop with a fighter/coach from Chechnya. He said Chechens and Dagestanis are really good in the cage, but it is street fighting where they truly excel.
"If they lose, they will come back the next day," he told me. "If they lose again, maybe they come back with a knife or a gun, but they will never lose a street fight. Never."
He continued, using Khabib Nurmagomdov as an example. I still can't quite wrap my mind around what the coach said next.
"Khabib is good in cage," began the coach. Given that Khabib lost one round in his 29-0 career, earned the UFC belt and successfully defended it three times, and is the lightweight G.O.A.T., calling him good is like saying Whitney Houston's voice was "good."
After calling Khabib good in the cage, the cornerman said, "... but on the street, he's much better."
That's the part I still can't fathom, and it set me to thinking. I had heard there was a guy in Khabib's orbit, a featherweight, who also was great at fighting on the street. He's a Chechen, named Zubaira Tukhugov.
After Conor McGregor failed to wrest the lightweight title back from Nurmagomedov at UFC 229, "The Eagle" soared over the cage and literally jumped on McGregor's taunting teammate Dillon Danis. Then McGregor and Khabib's cousin Abubakar Nurmagomedov tried to leave the Octagon, but the pair scuffled, with McGregor hitting Abubakar, and getting punched back. Tukhgov then leaped into the cage and struck McGregor.
A jubilant Tukhugov then posted a message on his social network, gleefully recounting the fulfillment of a vow to slap McGregor. That promise came after McGregor and friends flew a private jet across the Atlantic and attacked a bus with Khabib on it.
The bus and dolly melee was in turn a response to Nurmagomedov and colleagues surrounding a McGregor teammate, the Russia-born Artem Lobov, arguing with him, and getting physical to a degree. A translation of the discussion, which was in Russian, follows:
Khabib: “Don’t say my name, you understand me? You understand me or not? I’m asking you, say it to my face. You said I’m a p***y? Did you?"
Lobov: “I didn’t say that.”
Khabib: “Say it to my face. You said I’m a p***y, didn’t you?”
Lobov (again): “I didn’t say this.”
Khabib: “How you didn’t say? Don’t say such things anymore.”
Then Khabib cuffed Lobov lightly.
That tussle was in turn a response to an interview Lobov had given to Russian media that was critical of Khabib, and laudatory about Conor.
"He always pulls out of fights," said Lobov in translation, reportedly. "If something hurts a little bit, his ass or whatever, he pulls out. He can't even make weight. He doesn't give a s*** about his fans, that everyone flew from Russia. Even getting a visa is a pain, and travel expenses, all in order to see him and he doesn't show up. And it's not once. Not two, [it's] three or four times. Who is chicken here? Who is afraid?
"Conor shows up every time no matter what, he's a true fighter, he's a true champion. Champion isn't just a belt around your waist, it's mentality, it's your heart. Conor is a real champion and Khabib is not even close. ... Did you see Conor pulling out of a fight even once? Everyone has injuries, everyone has problems making weight, but one is a champion and shows up no matter what, and the other one is a coward who pulls out every time."
So with that chain of causality traced, we can return to Tukhugov slapping McGregor. Russian president Vladimir Putin met with Khabib and his great father Abdulmanap, and gave "The Eagle" a firm but not unkind verbal slap on the wrist.
Tukhugov too received a rebuke. It was from the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov.
“Zubair, you know who you are and where you’re from," began Kadyrov on his social network, as translated by RT Sports. "I remember you from when a spritely young boy from the Tukhgov family regularly fought in the fields near Tsentaroy [a rural locality in the Chechen Republic]. You are not on your own, don’t worry about that. You have us, your countrymen. You have the best club under the sun, Akhmat MMA, which arranges fights for you on the highest possible level.
"And what’s more, I saw the slap you gave Conor. That’s not according to our custom. If it was, it would be entirely different. If you give your word to stand up for your friend again, remember! Strike like you were taught in those same meadows - silently, briskly, and sharply. On the button, as they say...that’s it Zubair!”
So Khabib was criticized by the president of Russia for going too far, and Tukhugov was criticized by the head of Chechnya for not going far enough. When you slap the most famous MMA fighter in history, and the head of the republic chides you for not punching, you know that's a culture that takes street fighting seriously.
When Tukhgov was just 16-years-old, in Moscow, he fought on the street vs. an Armenian Master of Sports of Russia in boxing.
The pair had a difference, and settled it. There was no ref, there were no weapons, no friends jumped in on either side. That alone made it unusual for a fight in Western Europe or North America. Then add in that it lasted six minutes, far longer than most young men in the west can sustain on the street, or anywhere.
This video of a small man dropping two bouncers is said to be Tukhgov, but is believed to be a look alike. He is Chechen though!
For the record, when his MMA career began in earnest, Tukhgov says, "I left this business with street fights."
After the UFC 229 brawl in Las Vegas, Tukhgov got a 330-day suspension and $25,000 fine from the Nevada State Athletic Commission. UFC president Dana White threatened to fire Tukhgov, but that talk ceased after Nurmagomedov said that if his friend went, "The Eagle" would leave with him.
So what happens when Tuhkgov and Nurmagomedov square up? First one to crack a smile is the loser ;-)
The reputation for street fighting may leave a false impression, that Chechens and Dagestanis are always picking fights. Having spent a lot of time with a number of fighters from the region over the last few years, and having friends who train there, I can say that that is false. They are in fact great guys. Just don't go looking for a fight with them, unless you really want one.
Rest in Peace Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, a great man, born December 10, 1962, in what is now Sildi, Dagestan, Russia, died July 3, 2020, in Moscow, Russia.