UFC octagon announcer Bruce Buffer has spoken about his relationship with Khabib Nurmagomedov and his late father, predicting that the lightweight champion will return if he is motivated like iconic film character Rocky Balboa.
After 25 years as the voice of the UFC, it is hard to imagine a night under the lights without the flamboyant, cinematic showmanship of Buffer.
From brightly burning prospect to the man to beat – and Buffer considers both categories of fighter to be just as worthy and in need of his inimitable introductions – Nurmagomedov’s fights have had at least one other constant, as well as his hand raised at the end of them.
Buffer has watched on while the Russian and the likes of Conor McGregor have transformed the UFC from a niche interest to a mainstream sport.
That explosive growth has allowed the man who invented his immortal catchphrase, “it’s time”, to hone his MC skills on a far more frequent basis than he did when UFC events only took place three times a year at the start of his time with the promotion.
Now a beloved veteran and as much a part of the fabric of the sport as the canvas on which its stars scrap, Buffer offers a resounding appraisal of Nurmagomedov among the huge number of fighters he speaks fondly of.
“Khabib’s a man of honor,” Buffer said when asked about his experiences with the unbeaten Nurmagomedov, speaking to RT Sport of his pleasure at becoming so familiar with a name that many announcers might have been left tongue-tied by when initially learning its pronunciation.
“I like Khabib a lot. We get along really well, I liked his dad a lot.
“Khabib is the type of fighter who needs to be lifted. He needs an opponent that’s going to lift him, that’s going to make him want to go train and do what he does and go do the Rocky V mountain snow climbs and everything else while music is playing in his ears.”
Amateur psychologists aiming to imagine how negotiations between UFC president Dana White and Nurmagomedov are going would do well to ask Buffer for his thoughts.
Few men have had such an intimate insight into the career progressions of both men. Buffer describes White as a “maverick” and admires the bullish businessman’s continued passion – a word he never shies away from using to define his own approach and one of the key sources of his success.
Nurmagomedov could have shared the spotlight with Buffer for the last time when he beat Justin Gaethje in Abu Dhabi last October, sending shockwaves shuddering through the UFC by declaring his retirement afterwards.
Buffer believes that the passing of Nurmagomedov’s inspirational father, Abdulmanap, played a pivotal part in an announcement that he feels was far from final.
“I do think that Khabib will come back,” he said. “There’s a reason why he was at the point where he was at.
“There’s a lot going on in his life, you know? You make decisions that are emotional at the time, and you sit back and you make a more relatively thoughtful decision later on, if you analyze everything. We all have a right to change our minds.”
Nurmagomedov’s one-time arch-rival, Conor McGregor, is arguably the headliner who has been most open about the way that vast wealth can change and challenge a fighter, most of whom have come from humble beginnings and worked relentlessly to reach the top of a brutal calling.
“Conor Mcgregor’s a showman, no question,” Buffer said. “There are points in [fighters’] careers where they have so much money, and that’s why it’s interesting to see Conor come back, with the hundred-plus million that he’s worth, I assume.”
Grounded in marketing and business – he says his brand with brother and fellow announcing luminary Michael is worth half a billion dollars – Buffer thinks the future for McGregor is also an active one despite his defeat to Dustin Poirier last month.
“He’s definitely one of the biggest draws, a superstar. You can still maintain your success and image in defeat.
“It’s all about how you handle yourself. The important thing would be for him to get in there in the next three-to-five months and fight again.”
With McGregor looking significantly short of the sensational form he would require to tempt Nurmagomedov to fight him again, former welterweight and middleweight champion Georges St-Pierre is the runaway favorite to provide the Dagestani’s opponent should he end his retirement, not least because of Nurmagomedov’s professed admiration for the Canadian great.
Buffer sees parallels between their potential reasons for returning. “Georges St-Pierre is another fighter that needs to be lifted,” he asserted.
“Khabib has got to be worth tens of millions of dollars by now, so you need motivation. Are they as hungry as they used to be? Probably not. Are they fighters, as they always were at heart? Yes they are.
“[It’s a case of] ‘give me the motivation so that the fighter comes out and I can do what I am supposed to do and be who I am – Khabib Nurmagomedov.’
“That’s what I think it is with Khabib, he needs that challenge. He needs to step up to a challenge to give him that eye of the tiger feeling.”
The prospect of Nurmagomedov finding that desire is uncertain for a shrewd operator who is not consumed by the rewards of fame and adulation, but there is better news for fans of another UFC icon.
Buffer expects to spend at least another ten years doing what he loves. If he targets a 30th win, Nurmagomedov will walk out to be greeted by a figure whose assuredness about his unfinished business will have been justified.