The beef between current Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and ex-titleholder Conor McGregor was very well-documented leading up to their memorable showdown at UFC 229 a few weeks ago.
What most may not know, however, is how the fire was ignited. Now, Artem Lobov is shedding some light on the root of the drama that started long before the infamous weekend in Brooklyn, New York earlier this year where all hell broke loose.
“Things were good between all of us, between Conor, myself and Khabib. We saw Khabib often at shows and we were always very respectful to each other. I always made sure to come up to him and shake his hand, say hello and we both done the same,” explained Artem during a recent interview on The Ariel Helwani MMA Show.
“It was all good. That all changed when for some reason, and I don’t know why, Khabib started calling Conor a chicken. I am not sure why he wanted to do that or why he started to do that because everything was just fine before that and Conor had never said anything bad about Khabib. That’s when Khabib decided to start calling him chicken. Now it may not sound serious to you guys, but chicken is one of the most severe insults you can give a man in Russia,” he explained.
“In fact, if you call someone a chicken in Russia, that is a person who gets raped in a male prison. That is what a chicken is in Russia. Khabib knows that and everybody knows that. So it is a very, very severe insult. So I am hearing all this, Khabib keeps going on with chicken here and there in every interview. And again, Conor is still very respectful hasn’t said anything and we don’t really know where it’s coming from because Khabib was very respectful beforehand. So he sees all the media picking up on chicken and he enjoys it, he likes the PR. And he keeps going with for about a year.”
Soon thereafter, Artem says he conducted an interview with a Russian journalist and talked about Khabib’s comments. While he never called him a “chicken” directly, he did admits to saying Khabib labeling McGregor as such was odd when it’s “The Eagle” who is known for pulling out of fights for less of an injury than what “Notorious” has competed with.
And if he had to do it again, he would respond the same harsh way.
According to “The Russian Hammer,” since that interview, he and Nurmagomedov had crossed paths in Russia and not once had any issue. It wasn’t until they ran into each other in Brooklyn earlier this year where the now-infamous confrontation between the two occurred.
“I saw him in the corridor and I was doing an interview with one of the UFC staff. He was standing beside me and I had the UFC phone on my hand because I was doing an interview. Khabib saw me, he was alone at first,” he said. “He approached me alone and we had a very harsh exchange of words and there was no contact at all between us, he was alone and I was alone. He walked away from me and moments later he runs up to me with his big gang of guys and got brave and started to get physical. I was taken back an shocked, million things going through my head,” added Artem.
“He kept asking me the same thing: ‘Why did you say that?’ And I kept repeating the same thing. I said, ‘Look, you called my brother a chicken. How could I not respond to you? If someone called your brother a chicken, you probably would’ve responded the same way.’ And he just kept saying, ‘None of your business. Why did you call me that?’ Over and over again. And I explained to him, ‘Look, I didn’t say that to you directly. I said that in response to you calling him a chicken.’ And that was it. That’s how that all happened.”
Once McGregor caught wind of the confrontation, Artem says he called him up and left him a reassuring message. “‘I’m on the way, I’m coming over, and I don’t care what, when, who, why. I don’t give a fuck. You’re my brother and I’m on the way over’.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Of course, emotions ran high once again after Khabib submitted Conor at UFC 229 (see it again here), as “The Eagle” jumped out of the cage and nearly incited a riot. As result of that melee, Zubaira Tukhugov — Khabib’s teammate — was removed from his scheduled fight against Lobov, which was set to go down this Saturday (Oct. 27, 2018) at UFC Fight Night 138.