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LAS VEGAS — In 2018, Conor McGregor unleashed attacks on Khabib Nurmagomedov’s father and wife, so the undefeated former lightweight champion wasn’t at all surprised when McGregor went after Dustin Poirier’s wife, Jolie, both before and after their fight Saturday at UFC 264 at T-Mobile Arena.
Nurmagomedov, sadly, expected such behavior.
“Conor has a lot of money and he became very famous,” said Nurmagomedov, who submitted McGregor in their 2018 fight that remains the top-selling pay-per-view in the sport’s history, and one of the top five in combat sports history. “But money and fame don’t change you. They show who you are.”
What surprised Nurmagomedov, who is in Las Vegas helping his friend, Islam Makhachev, prepare for his main event lightweight fight Saturday at Apex against Thiago Moises, is the reaction of former women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey to McGregor’s antics.
Rousey, who showed herself to be the most ungracious and sore loser in UFC history after her career-ending losses to Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes, supported McGregor in two tweets.
She was supportive of McGregor after he had broken his leg and was shouting threats at Poirier, and insults at Poirier’s wife. It was ironic because Rousey went ballistic when an opponent mentioned her late father during her fighting career.
That stunned Nurmagomedov.
“If someone does bad things, you cannot support this,” Nurmagomedov told Yahoo Sports. “If you do, you’re the same s*** like him. This is my opinion. It doesn’t matter if it’s Ronda, [UFC president] Dana White or Donald Trump, if someone does bad things, you have to say, ‘Hey, this is not right.’ If you feel you cannot say something, OK, just be quiet.”
Nurmagomedov was in a reflective mood as he spoke Monday. He said he has no interest in ever fighting again and said that while his coaching has received rave reviews, he’s not planning a career on it.
He said he feels a brotherhood with the fighters who were his teammates and training partners during his fighting career, men such as Makhachev. He said he’ll leave the game when they’re out of the sport.
“I have no desire to be Coach of the Year or have everyone calling me wanting me to [train them],” Nurmagomedov said. “I owe these guys what I can give them and I will always be there for them. So as long as they’re fighting, I am going to be here with them at their side. But I have a lot of things — business, family — things that keep me busy. I don’t need to [coach] and I don’t plan to do that for a long time.”
He retired at 29-0 and as the pound-for-pound best in the world after beating Justin Gaethje last year in Abu Dhabi. His mother asked him to no longer fight and he agreed.
He said even if his mother gave him permission to fight again, he would not.
White joked Saturday that he had promised he wouldn’t bother Nurmagomedov with fight offers, but then admitted he tried again.
“He’s definitely retired,” White firmly said.
White last week discussed a potential fight with ex-welterweight and middleweight champion Georges St-Pierre with him. It’s a fight that Nurmagomedov and his late father, Abdulmanap, long sought.
But even the prospect of fighting someone he reveres like St-Pierre wasn’t enough to get him motivated.
“What you have to do to stay at that level, I cannot do it any more,” he said.
Nurmagomedov said he began to train as a young boy and never had a break, physically or mentally, until he retired.
He saw a young boy playing a video game in the room as he spoke and he asked the boy how old he is. The boy said he’d be 9 the next day.
Nurmagomedov smiled and said, “When I was 9, I was wrestling bears.”
Both Nurmagomedov and Makhachev are from Dagestan in Russia, where wrestling is dominant throughout the culture. Boys start wrestling not long after they’re able to walk, Makhachev said.
“Wrestling is so important in Dagestan and so much a part of the culture,” Makhachev said.
Nurmagomedov said from a young age, if his family ever visited another family, he would eye up the other boys because he knew they’d be wrestling soon.
“It didn’t matter where,” he said, “you knew it was going to happen. Inside, outside in the street, you knew that they were going to say, ‘OK boys, let’s go out and have you wrestle.’ Animals, whatever, you knew that’s what it was like.”
And as a 9-year-old, he did wrestle a bear in a video that has been viewed millions of times since. He said when he was rolling with it, he complained to his father.
“I said, ‘Father, this bear, he is biting me,’ ” Nurmagomedov said. “And my father say, ‘It’s OK, son. You have a mouth with teeth in your head. Bite him back.’ So what I became was a part of all of those experiences I had. Some of them were long, long ago, but you don’t forget that.”
As he watched the McGregor-Poirier fight on Saturday, he didn’t need all that experience to understand what was going on.
McGregor broke his tibia when Poirier checked a leg kick, then the foot collapsed under him a short time later when he stepped back near the end of the first round. He underwent surgery on Sunday.
Had the fight continued, Nurmagomedov said there is no doubt what would have happened to his old rival.
“[If the fight had continued], I think Dustin would have broken both legs,” Nurmagomedov told Yahoo Sports. “I told you, no fighter ever has a second prime. Fighters, they don’t have two primes. They only have one prime. Maybe you can fight with fighters who are not on your level and you think, ‘Oh, I’m back in my prime again.’ No, it doesn’t work that way.
“Right now, Dustin is the best in the world. I believe he is the best lightweight in the world right now. If they fight 100 times, Dustin is going to beat him 100 times. This is my opinion.”
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