Even before Khabib Nurmagomedov faced Conor McGregor at UFC 229, the lightweight champ repeatedly reminded observers he has a significant following overseas. But now that “The Eagle” has defeated his rival, he isn’t sure to what extent McGregor remains the biggest name in the game.
There’s no question that McGregor has been one of the top draws in MMA for a while now, and the Irish fighter has been a mainstream commodity now for three years, at least. The outspoken fighter has repeatedly noted that fact during his run in the UFC, and McGregor has also told future and or potential opponents that facing him will change their life.
But, as noted above, as Nurmagomedov campaigned for a bout with McGregor, he reminded people that he has a pretty big fanbase as well, particularly in Russia. Well, in a recent appearance on a Russian talk show, the lightweight champ made these comments, while discussing how massive UFC 229 was (quotes via BJ Penn.com):
“You know, you should give credit to Conor,” Nurmagomedov said matter of factly about his former opponent and arch rival. “He is very popular. Was I as popular before the fight? I don’t think so. But if you compare us as athletes, I proved that I am better. But as a star he is much brighter than me. I don’t know how much now, but before the fight, definitely.”
“It was also a rivalry between countries, 100%,” Nurmagomedov added, while referring to the populations of McGregor’s native Ireland and Russia. “Do you remember my statement? Irish only six million. Russians 150 million.”
It is likely that observers here in North America may have underestimated how popular Nurmagomedov was overseas, prior to UFC 229. MMA is a big deal in Russia, by all accounts, and Nurmagomedov has been one of the best fighters on the planet for some time. Further, here in North America, we tend to put a lot of emphasis on pay-per-view numbers, when discussing the popularity of a fighter. But those figures don’t tell the complete story. Not every market uses the PPV model.
So, now that Khabib has faced and defeated the superstar, his fame has undoubtedly risen. Does it match Conor’s? That’s hard to definitively say. If we use social media followings as a metric, Khabib has 13.1 million followers on Instagram, while Conor has 29.4 million. On Twitter, Khabib has over 600,000 followers, but McGregor has more than 7.5 million. Of course, it’s important to note that not everyone uses social media. Not everyone has a smartphone or a computer.
Whether Khabib has reached McGregor’s level of fame or not, there’s no question that the champ’s profile has increased exponentially in 2018.