MMA is one of the fastest growing sports in the world, and the leader behind that growth is UFC.
Stars like Conor McGregor have helped the sport of MMA and the UFC promotion grow around the world, whether it be outside the Octagon with their smack talk, or inside the Octagon with their fighting.
Russia is a country where MMA and UFC are vastly expanding, with Russian fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov being their representative. He is the number one contender in the UFC Lightweight division, meaning he is in line to have a Lightweight title fight in the near future.
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UFC featherweight Artem Lobov believes a UFC event in Russia would be absolutely huge, but he also thinks that Nurmagomedov owes a lot of his Russian following to McGregor because of the Irishman's success in the industry.
Lobov said, according to MMA Fighting: “Every time I go to Russia I get the feeling that (MMA) is the biggest sport in the country right now. It’s the coolest sport at the moment. Men and women love it. It’s become mainstream and there are a number of reasons for that.
“A personality like Conor’s appeals to the Russian people a lot. He’s always ready to go, he knocks people out and he’s tough. Obviously, Fedor Emelianenko is a huge national treasure. The president, Vladimir Putin, is a huge fan of his and the sport in general.
“All of these things have made the sport very important over there, and as a result of that, MMA is very popular. When you have a sport that is so popular and a guy like Conor is at the top of his game, that provides the fans with a lot of talking points. He is the guy that everyone knows over there.”
Lobov continued: “When I talk to Russian fighters when I’m over there they are very thankful and complimentary of Conor. They see him as one of the main factors behind MMA becoming mainstream in Russia. The pay for most fighters has increased as the popularity of MMA has increased. They are definitely feeling the McGregor effect in the East.”
If Russia does host a UFC event, Nurmagomedov would likely be featured on the card, but Lobov believes that his countryman’s fan base was built thanks to McGregor bringing so much attention to the sport.
“It would be very hard to say who would be the bigger draw in Russia between Khabib and Conor. I honestly feel that Khabib is as big as he is in Russia because of Conor McGregor.
“As I said, Conor is the guy who has made MMA a hot topic in Russia. More and more Russians started watching the UFC when Conor came along. The more they watched, the more they understood it. Then, all of a sudden you get this Russian guy coming along and of course the Russian people put their support behind him.”
Lobov also suggested that a lot of Russian fans are “unhappy” with Nurmagomedov’s frequent withdrawals from high profile fightd, and that they like Conor more because he always shows up and does what he says he’s going to do. He expects fans to be divided between Nurmagomedov and McGregor if the fight happens.
“If a fight happens between Conor and Khabib in Russia, the support would be divided between them. It would be 50-50.
“There would be a lot of support for Conor. If you factor in the Irish that would travel over, there might be even more people supporting Conor at the event even though it would be taking place in Russia.”
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