On the night Khabib Nurmagomedov jumped the UFC cage at T-Mobile Arena following his submission victory over Conor McGregor to pursue a McGregor cornerman who was part of trading insults between the camps, the lightweight champion had a second target in mind.
With security officials surrounding Nurmagomedov, he rushed past press row, scanning the crowd and roaring the first name of McGregor’s close friend and stablemate, Artem Lobov.
“It was probably best we never saw each other,” Lobov told the Los Angeles Times. “I was [sitting] quite high up. But I was not going to come down there with my own fight.”
Lobov re-emerged in the news this week by signing with the new Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship after asking for and receiving his release from the UFC. He’ll meet former UFC combatant Jason Knight on April 20 in Biloxi, Miss.
Lobov fueled the tension during a Russian television interview, responding to Nurmagomedov’s criticism of McGregor by reminding viewers that Nurmagomedov had withdrawn from previous fights while McGregor stood as the champion.
Asked if he was encouraged to part ways with the UFC after stirring up a rivalry that ultimately led to a nine-month suspension for Nurmagomedov and a six-month suspension for McGregor that each are currently serving, Lobov responded in impassioned tones, reminding of the fight’s pay-per-view success.
“Come on, caused them a lot of problems?” he said. “I made them … hundreds of millions of dollars. And to be honest, it wasn’t my comment that caused all this. Khabib was the first guy who started calling Conor, ‘Chicken,’ insulting him and all that. I could never just let that go, so when I was questioned about that on Russian TV, I had to step up and say something. Otherwise, what kind of friend am I?”
Lobov, 32, was supposed to fight Nurmagomedov’s stablemate, Zubaira Tukhugov, in Canada two weeks after the arena incident, but the UFC pulled Tukhugov from the bout after he entered the octagon and scuffled with McGregor during the Las Vegas fracas.
“I’ll be honest with you, I was ready to sign with Bare Knuckle in December,” Lobov said. “They had made me a great offer. But I knew the fight with Tukhugov was the fight I had to fight. No other fight made sense to me. It wasn’t about money. It was about honor. It would’ve been a huge fight for sure, if not the biggest fight in Russia.
“When they said we cannot fight, well, I’m done as well.”
Lobov said the financial package he received for a reported three-fight deal exceeds what he was going to earn in the UFC. He also doesn’t have to wrestle, which he found boring in mixed martial arts.
“I’m happy to be boxing now. I get to show my true potential, and I’m still improving. Imagine a sport where there’s no takedowns,” he said. “I was sick and tired of people holding me down and not really fighting. I wanted to be in some real fights, and in Bare Knuckle, I have exactly that.
“And in terms of wrestling and grappling, this experience I’ve had is very good for me when I’ll get in the clinch. I’m used to that clinch work … I want to keep that advantage. I’ll be a lot more stronger than the others. I will be a champion and may move into boxing and see how that goes. After doing this, why wouldn’t I want to fight guys with pillows on their hands?”