Artem Lobov is the man at the center of the Conor McGregor-Khabib Nurmagomedov rivalry, and on Monday, he broke his silence about the chaos of the past several months.
After staying silent for months, the man who was at the genesis of the bitter rivalry between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov has spoken out. Artem Lobov fights in the co-main event at UFC Moncton this weekend, against short notice opponent Michael Johnson. His original foe, Zubaira Tukhugov, was pulled from the card after assaulting Lobov’s SBG Ireland teammate Conor McGregor in the octagon at UFC 229. That came during a brawl sparked by Nurmagomedov, who scaled the octagon wall to attack another of McGregor’s teammates, Dillon Danis.
That incident was retaliation for McGregor, Lobov, and others storming the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn ahead of UFC 223 back in April, which in turn was a response to Khabib and his crew accosting Lobov in a hotel lobby during fight week. That confrontation stemmed from comments Lobov says he made years earlier when asked by a reporter about Nurmagomedov calling McGregor a chicken. Speaking to Ariel Helwani on Monday, Lobov explained that “chicken” in Russian is one of the worst insults you can use against a man. The term, Lobov explained, equates to prison wife (to put it nicely) in English.
When Nurmagomedov initially confronted him, the man who would later become the UFC lightweight champion was alone. He then returned with about fifteen members of his entourage, and at that point, got physical with Lobov. The incident was caught on camera, and the news soon broke, though coverage of it paled compared to what was to come.
“An avalanche of all kinds of crazy stuff going on,” Lobov said of the reaction to the incident at the UFC host hotel in Brooklyn ahead of UFC 223. “I had a million people messaging me, telling me to to do this or do that,” he later added. Yet none of the advice, said Lobov, was what he wanted to hear. “There was only one message on my phone that was a good message, and that was from Conor. And all it said was ‘I’m on the way. I’m coming over.'”
Asked what the plan was with Conor coming to his aid, Lobov was coy. “I don’t want to go into the details of whatever, what I knew or what I didn’t know,” he said. “But he was on the way over, and I knew that he was coming over. I didn’t know what he was coming over for exactly, but I just knew he was coming over to support me. Because he knew that I was there alone, and these guys, there were fifteen or twenty, I don’t know how many of them were there.”
Of course, the end result was Conor and company attacking a fighter bus with Nurmagomedov on it in the parking garage of the Barclay’s Center. McGregor would later be arrested after throwing a hand cart through the window of the bus, then struck a plea deal to avoid more serious charges.
It wasn’t exactly the original plan. “The whole idea was to just even out the situation. We just wanted to put the numbers even. Well now it’s fifteen and fifteen, or whatever it is. Let’s talk now,” Lobov said. “[Conor] just wanted to give me a chance to speak now with Khabib one-on-one, when I also got support.”
“When it was one-on-one, Khabib never did anything,” Lobov claimed. “Never. Only when he had fifteen guys with him, then he was brave. So Conor just wanted to even out the numbers. He wanted to see what’s going to happen now when it’s fifteen vs. fifteen.”
What happened was a downward spiral that culminated in the brawl at UFC 229. Yet to Lobov, it’s Nurmagomedov who crossed the line. “It was always within the sport before that. Khabib was the one that took it outside the sport.”
Lobov later added that he would pursue a fight with Zubaira Tukhugov, who was involved in the hotel incident in April and who also took part in the brawl at UFC 229, despite Zubaira being pulled from UFC Moncton. Even if it meant taking the fight outside the UFC if necessary.