UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov says that he isn’t immune from the ‘psychological stress’ of fighting as he speaks of several of his teammates dropping off the card in advance of this weekend’s UFC 254 event.
What was originally intended to be something of a team affair on ‘Fight Island’ this weekend has instead turned into a Khabib solo tour after several of the Russian’s training partners fell off Saturday’s card for a variety of reasons.
After saying in August that four of his ‘brothers’ would be competing alongside him, one by one each of those proposed bouts fell by the wayside. The most high-profile of which, a top contender bout between Islam Makhachev and former champion Rafael Dos Anjos, was ruled out after the Brazilian was forced to withdraw following a coronavirus diagnosis.
And now, with none of Makhachev or his cousins Umar and Abubakar, fighting in the octagon, Khabib admits that the situation brings with it an added level of stress.
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“You saw it, Umar has 39 degrees temperature,” the UFC champion explained in a video blog released on Friday but shot prior to his departure to Abu Dhabi. “He will be hospitalized. First Abubakar, then Islam could not find an opponent because his opponent tested positive. We had to compete on the same day. Me, Abubakar, Islam and Umar. Now it’s just me.“
Friday morning’s weigh-ins in Abu Dhabi may have given a glimpse why. Khabib admits in the video that he still had 8.5kg (almost 19lbs) to cut in the six days before he stepped on the scales and the evidence captured by the waiting media on ‘Fight Island’ suggested that his trip to the 155lbs championship weight wasn’t a comfortable one.
“Yes it does [feel psychologically pressurizing], because we had training camp together etc.,” Khabib continues. “Umar had 6kg (13lbs) left. Of course I feel pressure. I know what they go through, I went through all of this.
However Khabib – who is also captured in the video leading several of teammates through prayer – says that the toll it takes to get to the top can only truly be paid by those rare fighters who successfully make it to world championship level.
“To become a champion you have to go through a lot,” he says. “Injuries, disappointment, diseases, crises. Yes, psychological stress. You won’t become a champion without it.”