Ahead of his bout with Hakeem Dawodu at UFC 253 on Saturday, Russian featherweight Zubaira Tukhugov sat down with RT Sport to break down his matchup, and discuss moving on without his mentor and coach, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov.

Tukhugov will be cornered by Khabib Nurmagomedov and Islam Makhachev on Saturday night, but despite having his friends and teammates by his side, he’ll fight with a heavy heart after the untimely death of coach Abdulmanap due to complications related to COVID-19.

Tukhugov referenced his grief briefly during the UFC 253 media day session, but said he’s better served recounting his views in his native tongue.

“I couldn’t explain everything in there because I was speaking English,” he admitted.

“Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov was with us last year, and when he’s near I felt very confident. If I struggle with something he’ll help me, he’d help me get ready.

“When I was getting nervous about my weight cut he came to me and encouraged me. My training partners made a lot of mistakes during my weight cut. He made adjustments and then I was cutting weight properly.

“I’m having problems now and I think: ‘If Abdulmanap was here, I’d give him all my trust and cut weight easily.’ But, what can you do? That’s life. One day you’re here, the next day you’re gone. He’s no longer with us, sadly.”

Tukhugov revealed that, With Abdulmanap now gone, his son, UFC lightweight champion Khabib, has stepped up to take on more of a leadership role within their tight-knit team.

“Abdulmanap shared his experience with everyone on the team, but he shared the most with Khabib because he’s his son. Thus, Khabib has the most experience out of everyone,” he said.

“Due to the fact that we all trust him, and he’s the one giving instructions.”