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National opinion poll dubs Khabib Nurmagomedov ‘Best Athlete In Russia’

Russian MMA fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov gives press conference in Krasnodar Photo by Valery Matytsin\TASS via Getty Images

As if ending the year at the top of the official UFC pound for pound rankings as the #1 fighter in the sport wasn’t good enough for Khabib Nurmagomedov, now he’s been declared the best Russian athlete by the people of Russia themselves.

“Today VTsIOM (All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center) has published the data of the national rating of the best sportsman in Russia!” Khabib wrote on Instagram. “It is one thing when you are recognized by experts, trainers, fighters and specialists, and another thing is the recognition of the People. Thank you for being there. It would be almost impossible without you.”

Khabib won the top spot with 10% of the overall votes, with only Russian soccer star and national team captain Artem Dzyuba coming anywhere close to him with 8%. Next down the list sat tennis player Danill Medvedev, hockey player Alexander Ovechkin, and figure skater Alina Zagitova with 2% each.

Having an athlete from a relatively fringe sport like cage fighting beat out stars from soccer, tennis, hockey, and figure skating in a national poll is pretty impressive. Just another reason why UFC president Dana White isn’t taking Khabib’s promise to retire without a fight. Khabib is just a massive star for the promotion in the region, one that can’t be easily replaced by another guy who says ‘smesh’ no matter how hard the UFC may try.

White and Nurmagomedov will be meeting up in January when the UFC returns to Fight Island, Abu Dhabi for UFC 257: McGregor vs. Poirier, with White hoping the lure of hitting 30-0 and a dumptruck of money will draw “The Eagle” back to the cage. But according to his buddy and training partner Daniel Cormier, it’ll take more than money to convince Khabib to come back. As far as he’s concerned, it’s the name that comes along with the offer that matters. As Khabib has said many times, that name is Georges St-Pierre.

But given Dana White’s ongoing beef with the Canadian legend (which spans back to when GSP relinquished his title in protest over the lack of drug testing in the sport), we have our doubts that superfight will be on the table. Much more likely to be put forward: Conor McGregor yet again, with another zero added to the paycheck.