Oleg Taktarov has received criticism for declaring fans who regard Khabib Nurmagomedov as Russia’s first UFC champion “fools,” reigniting a row while appearing to take a swipe at the title holder’s Muslim beliefs and background.
Nurmagomedov has been widely recognized as Russia’s first champion in the modern UFC, but Taktarov has reopened a curious feud with a series of counter-arguments to the claim, pointing to his own taste of glory when he won an eight-man tournament in which all the fights were staged on the same day in 1995.
Former heavyweight Taktarov, whose place in the sport’s hall of fame is assured by his appearances on three of the earliest events in current UFC history and enduring popularity with fans, was only denied the Superfight title thanks to a draw almost 25 years ago against friend and foe Ken Shamrock in a bout for which there were no judges.
“Where did you find that Khabib was the first Russian champion?” a perplexed Taktarov asked viewers during an Instagram chat, adding that he “won the sixth title” in a story that “cannot be rewritten, no matter how much you would like.”
Referring to an austere form of Islam and the region of Nurmagomedov’s origins, Taktarov added: “If one Wahhabi from the Tsumadinsky district called himself the first champion, then why do all the fools believe it? [Khabib] himself doesn’t repeat such a thing, but you repeat it like monkeys.”
Taktarov’s words continue a row that is thought to have started in the build-up to Nurmagomedov beating Conor McGregor in 2018, when Taktarov said the lightweight star’s father, Abdulmanap, had trained him to become a drab fighter with a “cautious gene.”
“He’s a typical highlander,” he added. “When the army comes, they hide somewhere.”
Taktarov qualified those remarks by adding that he was not talking about people from Dagestan, where he was invited to visit the Nurmagomedov family a month later, heading to the mountains as part of a group including Khabib, who hoped the pundit would find common ground with his father because of their grounding as Soviet wrestlers.
Khabib appeared to have repaired the relationship after confiding that MMA star-turned actor Taktarov had run barefoot in the mountains in an Instagram post about the trip, but tensions rose again the following April when Taktarov called the invitation “insincere” and Khabib unfollowed him on the social media platform.
Last August, Taktarov accused Abdulmanap of appearing “like a great magician” to “decide that I wasn’t the first champion.” “He says that technically I’m not the first and I should be forgotten, wiped from history,” he said. “How can you ever say this?”
А вы проснулись на зарядку?))) #Тактаров #Нурмагомедов #Дагестан
Олег Николаевич @olegtaktarov_official настолько хотел почувствовать Дагестан, что в горы сегодня он бегал без обуви ) Всем хорошего дня друзья✋
Asking his fans on social media not to criticize Taktarov, Abdulmanap replied: “I didn’t have any conflict with you.
“You and your coach came to my place, had a good time and left. And now you want to bother [Khabib’s brother] Fedor, Khabib, and me.”
Former MMA fighter Magomed Malikov questioned Taktarov’s latest comments and said the championship’s official records should be used to settle any disputes.
“If he wants an exact answer, he needs to make an official request to the UFC,” advised Malikov.
“Sometimes I see his statements addressed to certain Caucasians or certain situations. What can you say about this?
“For a man of world renown, especially if he is the first UFC champion from Russia, it is not appropriate to behave this way.
“We see old-school champions such as Alexander Karelin or Fedor Emelianenko – even if provoked, we will not hear insults about other people from them. Even if they comment on certain situations, they do it very carefully, without touching upon nationality.
“Oleg does not know about these matters. I wish he would come to his senses.”
Khabib had been due to defend his title against Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 on April 18 but was forced to withdraw amid worldwide travel restrictions and uncertainty over the venue for the fight.