Ahead of his bout with Jared Gooden at UFC 260, Abubakar Nurmagomedov has been able to rely on his cousin, Khabib, staying awake to help him make weight – and revealed how the ex-champ’s father, Abdulmanap, loved a game of chess.
Nicknamed the ‘Dagestani Gangster’ by another former champion and one of his occasional training partners, Daniel Cormier, Nurmagomedov is seeking a first UFC win more than 16 months after losing on his sole appearance for the promotion so far.
Although the 31-year-old sambo and freestyle wrestling powerhouse hardly seems the type to lack motivation, any extra impetus he needed has been emphatically provided by a series of tasteless comments made by opponent Gooden about the Nurmagomedov family name and Russian fighters.
“I know that he doesn’t have any wrestling, nor grappling,” Nurmagomedov told RT Sport, shrugging off Gooden’s jibes that all Russian fighters rely solely on their ground game.
“But I know he has got a good stand-up game, good boxing. He moves well and has a good physique – it will not be an easy fight.
“I will need to fight a smart fight, more intelligent. It’s not just about simply taking him down, so I will have to outsmart him, to fool him around.
“He is a big, strong guy – a boxer. Let’s see if he gives up or not. Will he fall asleep or not?”
Former lightweight champion Khabib has said that Nurmagomedov is approaching his peak and has never looked as focused as he has this week, when he will have the chance to avenge that first-round defeat to David Zawada in November 2019.
‘The Eagle’ has stayed awake with Nurmagomedov while he has gone through the rituals of making weight, describing his role as part of the camp as a major motivation for him following his retirement from his own celebrated career in October.
The undefeated icon shares training duties with Javier Mendez, who is known to create playful social media videos with Nurmagomedov when they are not hard at work in camp ahead of the meeting with Gooden.
“Javier is always there,” explained Gooden, adding that the man who helped guide Khabib to many of his greatest successes occasionally pretends to be filming him joking around without pressing record on his phone.
“Monday, Wednesday and Friday are Javier’s days. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday are when Khabib holds some freestyle wrestling sessions, wall wrestling, grappling.
“But sparring sessions are all up to Javier. After every training session, whether it’s Khabib or Javier, we sit together and discuss everything: who needs what, all the flaws or fortes.”
The camp has lost none of the close-knitted spirit that was overseen by Khabib’s late father, Abdulmanap, before his untimely passing last year following complications caused by the novel coronavirus.
As was the case for so many MMA stars, Abdulmanap was a mentor to Nurmagomedov who supported him during the highs and lows of life as a fighter, including an 18-month lay-off after he partially tore ligaments in one hand and developed a troublesome cyst in it.
“He loved to play chess,” Nurmagomedov said, sharing a photo on Instagram of Abdulmanap surveying the pieces on a board with the same studied expression he applied to training sessions and fights.
“He could play chess all night if he had someone to play with,” he movingly added. “We are all from him, and we will return to him.”
Nurmagomedov suggested that Gooden’s ignorance about Russian fighters meant he would be better off trying an underwater version of chess than MMA, but he believes that another fighter, Mike Perry, would be a more worthy future opponent for him.
“No emotions at all,” he said of the notoriously provocative American who he would “love” to fight. “He called out a lot of fighters. He loves calling people out on the internet, so he made me interested. I would like to share an octagon with him.”