It remains to be seen how long Khabib Nurmagomedov can hold the UFC’s lightweight title, but the undefeated fighter’s mindset about being champ, so far, is a refreshing change.
After battling injuries and medical issues the last few years, Nurmagomedov finally competed for the lightweight title at UFC 223 last weekend, and defeated Al Iaquinta. The bout officially ended Conor McGregor’s reign as the promotion’s lightweight champ, as the Irish star was stripped of the title, since he hadn’t fought in the cage since 2016.
Following Nurmagomedov’s decision win over Iaquinta, the galaxy class grappler said this about achieving his championship goal (quote via MMA Junkie):
“With the belt comes a lot of attention, a lot of money – crazy stuff, a lot of crazy stuff,” Nurmagomedov said. “I don’t want this belt to change me. I want to stay focused. Next month is Ramadan coming. After Ramadan I want to begin training, come back this year and defend this title.
“I’m a little bit worried about this belt. Sometime you think, ‘You’re UFC champion (and) a lot of stuff.’ But I’m a little bit scared about this. I don’t want to change. I want to be same Khabib, like, before belt and after the belt. This is not about me. This is about all people around me.”
Now, other fighters have made comments like this in the past. But, Nurmagomedov’s statements come at a time when the biggest name in the sport, is facing charges for throwing a dolley through a van window at UFC 223’s media day. The same star who jumped the cage at Bellator 187, and appeared to slap at a security attendant. The man who has repeatedly denigrated his fellow fighters as a means to self-promote and create more interest in his fights.
Sure, people who are close to McGregor may say the fighter hasn’t changed since he became a massive star. By several accounts, the now former champ is, and continues to be, a fiercely loyal friend and teammate (thus the aforementioned incident at UFC 223). There’s no question that McGregor’s brash persona has helped drive a lot of people into MMA, and everyone in the sport should thank him for that.
But, even if you aren’t a booster of Khabib, you have to admit his more reserved and stoic personality stands in stark contrast to McGregor’s. It’s an interesting change, for now, and is yet another reason why a bout between the two has the potential to be something truly, truly special.