Khabib Nurmagomedov inscrutable as possible $100M+ fight vs. Floyd Mayweather presents itself

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports
Khabib Nurmagomedov interacts with media during the UFC 249 press conference at T-Mobile Arena on March 6, 2020 in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Khabib Nurmagomedov interacts with media during the UFC 249 press conference at T-Mobile Arena on March 6, 2020 in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

LAS VEGAS — Khabib Nurmagomedov is already set for life financially. He has a number of highly lucrative bouts ahead of him, including a lightweight title defense against Tony Ferguson on April 18 at UFC 249 in Brooklyn, but he’s not hurting for money even if he never fights again.

When he was paid $2 million to show up to watch the boxing heavyweight title fight between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr. in Saudi Arabia on Dec. 7, he made more money than any of the fighters on the card other than Joshua and Ruiz.

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And when he did a tour of Middle Eastern countries after defeating Conor McGregor at UFC 228 in 2018, he added several million to his bank account.

It’s nothing, though, what he could make were he to agree to box Floyd Mayweather Jr. Mayweather is now 43 years old and hasn’t fought since stopping McGregor in 10 rounds in 2017, but periodically, talk pops up about a fight with Nurmagomedov.

The UFC lightweight champion, who is 28-0, is looking at well more than $100 million if he fights Mayweather. He said that Saudi Arabian officials are very desperate and are offering well into nine figures to put on the bout.

There isn’t much significance in the fight, like there is in his UFC bout next month with Ferguson. He admits as much.

“Mayweather is only a money fight,” Nurmagomedov told Yahoo Sports at a Dominance MMA media day event at the Park MGM. “It’s only for the money, period. That’s it. But they [the Saudis] want me to come very badly to fight with Mayweather.”

It’s hard to gauge how serious Nurmagomedov is about a fight with Mayweather. He said even his father/trainer, Abdulmanap, thinks it’s a preposterous idea, but he’s spoken of fighting Mayweather 11 rounds in boxing and one round in MMA.

Money, fame has already changed Nurmagomedov’s life

While he’d earn generational money for the event, he said he isn’t now nor has he even been about the money, and joked that relatives are popping up out of the woodwork now that he’s wealthy.

“With a lot of money comes a lot of crazy stuff,” Nurmagomedov said. “Before, I had a lot of cousins, but right now [that I have money], I have cousins, uncles, lots of people who all of a sudden are related to me some way. Money is money. Throughout history, money has been dangerous. It caused a lot of problems. You have to be careful with it.

“If money goes inside your heart, inside your mind, this is bad. If money is just in your hands, this is good and you can do a lot of stuff. But if money gets inside of you, and takes over your mentality and fills up your heart, it’s dangerous and you have to be careful.”

His success has made him one of the most recognizable athletes in the world. He said he was shocked when he attended the opening of a Reebok store in Moscow and it was overrun by thousands more people than who could safely fit in it.

He’s a simple guy and likes to go out and laugh with his friends, but it’s becoming increasingly more difficult for him to do that, particularly in Russia. 

“It’s really hard because sometimes, I really want to go out and enjoy myself with my friends, but there are so many people [approaching me],” Nurmagomedov said. “It’s very hard; very difficult. It’s almost like work. In the U.S., it’s a little bit easier. Here, people don’t bother you too much. But on my side, people are more close. They come and they hug you and say, ‘Please say hello to my friend, my brother, my cousin.’ They’re more open.

“In America, in the U.S., people don’t bother you as much. It doesn’t mean people here are better than in my country; no. In my country, it’s normal, if someone comes up, you have to shake his hand, hug him and talk with him. That’s how it is. You cannot say I am busy. Anyway, that is how this business is. It shocked me the first time it happened when so many people come up and go crazy, but I understand it now is part of my job.”

Khabib talks Tony Ferguson’s trash-talk

The part of his job people are most excited about is his fight with Ferguson, which has the potential to be an epic match. Ferguson is 25-3 but has won 12 in a row and 18 of his last 19. He’s one of the most exciting fighters in the sport and has not only won his fights recently, but has brutally beaten his opponents.

If there is anyone who can give Nurmagomedov a serious challenge, Ferguson is the guy.

He trash talked like crazy at a news conference Friday at T-Mobile Arena to promote UFC 249, and dealing with that is another part of Nurmagomedov’s job he’s not wild about.

He isn’t sure why his opponents choose to do it because he insists he’s immune to it, but it happens more often than not.

“I don’t know why they try to do it, but I guess they feel they have to try something [to give themselves confidence],” Nurmagomedov said. “But here’s the thing: Emotionally, it’s very hard to get inside my head. I always remind myself, ‘Stay calm. Stay relaxed.’ They’re paying me to fight. They don’t care if I can talk. That’s why I am good with this. I understand it and it doesn’t get to me.”

He responded a bit to Ferguson, though, and the fans were loving it.

“Honestly, when someone talks with you crazy, you have to talk, you know?” he said. “When I went to the press conference yesterday, I didn’t want to talk [trash]. I just wanted to do the Q&A. In the beginning, what did he do? Talk, talk, talk, talk. Finally, I said, ‘Well, I have to stop this guy.’ He talked so much and when he began to talk about street fighting and acting like a gangster, I said, ‘Hey,’ and I let him know he wasn’t just going to run [over me].”

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