Artem Lobov vows to leave UFC if Zubaira Tukhugov cut

Greg RosensteinESPN Staff Writer4 Minute Read

If you thought the feud between the teams of Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov was over, think again.

In an exclusive interview with ESPN's Ariel Helwani on Monday, Artem Lobov -- McGregor's friend and longtime teammate -- vowed to leave the UFC if the promotion cuts Zubaira Tukhugov, because he hopes to fight Tukhugov in the cage. Tukhugov entered the Octagon after UFC 229 earlier this month and punched McGregor from behind.

Tukhugov was originally scheduled to face Lobov on Saturday in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, but was taken off the card for his actions. The UFC has threatened to release him from the roster but no action has been made official.

"If they cut him, I want to be gone as well," Lobov said. "I will fight him in ACB, Bellator or any league he wants to do it. But I will get him.

"It has to be done inside the Octagon. I want to look this man in the eyes, one-on-one. Once you're inside that Octagon, it's one-on-one. Your skill versus his skill. Your heart versus his heart. I want to test his heart in the Octagon. I want to see what he's got."

Lobov must first get past a dangerous opponent on Saturday in UFC veteran Michael Johnson, who was added as a late replacement for Tukhugov. Though Lobov claims he's not looking past Johnson, who is coming off a split decision win against Andre Fili in August, he has his sights set on only one person right now.

"I'm only doing this (against Johnson) because I was already ready to go and I haven't fought in a year," Lobov said. "For many reasons, I have to take this fight. But make no mistake, I want Zubaira.

"We need this win, but I don't feel the pressure. To me, this is one step closer to getting Zubaira back. There is nothing else on my mind. That's the only thing I can even think of. I'm not going to rest, I'm not going to sleep, until I get him back."

Lobov is an integral part of the bad blood between McGregor's and Nurmagomedov's teams. In 2016, Nurmagomedov called McGregor a "chicken" in the Octagon following his win against Johnson. Lobov, a Russian who trains in Ireland, commented to Russian media his displeasure in this and called out Nurmagomedov for pulling out of fights.

Ahead of UFC 223 in Brooklyn last April, Nurmagomedov approached Lobov in the hotel. Moments later his team surrounded Lobov, and Nurmagomedov grabbed his neck before being separated from the heated exchange.

Lobov admitted he was at a loss for words.

"I had a million people messaging me and telling me to do this or do that. Not a single person gave me proper advice. Not a single person gave me proper support. There was only one message on my phone that was a good message, and that was from Conor. All it said was, 'I'm on the way. I'm coming over. And I don't give a f--- what, who, why, when. I don't give a f---. You're my brother and I'm on the way over.'"

A day later, McGregor and members of his team entered the loading docks of the Barclays Center looking for Nurmagomedov, who was on the fighters' bus. McGregor threw a dolly through a window, injuring multiple fighters. He eventually was arrested and charged with assault. Months later he took a plea deal to avoid more jail time.

"I spent my whole life trying to help Conor, and he's done the same for me," Lobov said. "And here I am sitting in a hotel room and because of me, he's in prison. Of course I felt horrible. When it first happened with Khabib, I didn't think it could get any worse, and it did get worse."

McGregor and Nurmagomedov fought for the UFC's lightweight belt on Oct. 6, a bout which saw the Dagestan fighter dominate on the ground and force McGregor to tap out from submission in the fourth round. After the fight, Nurmagomedov jumped over the cage and tried to attack McGregor's jiu-jitsu coach Dillon Danis and a brawl ensued.

With McGregor in the cage, Tukhugov jumped in and threw a punch from behind. He later went on social media to describe why he did what he did.

"The one thing that I did not like is the fact that after all of this happened, Zubaira sat down in front of his phone and recorded the video bragging about punching a guy who had just gone four rounds and just fought, hitting him from the side when he wasn't looking," Lobov said. "Do you think that's an honorable thing to do? To sit down about bragging about hitting someone from behind? That's not an honorable thing to do. They must get it for that."

Lobov told ESPN he had multiple offers to fight for other organizations, including from a Russian boxing promoter and bare knuckle fighting, and was close to accepting.

"I was ready to leave the UFC," Lobov said. "But when I sat down, I said, 'I have to fight Zubaira. That's the only fight that makes sense to me. I don't want to fight anyone else. It doesn't matter how much they pay me.'

"As a result I ended up staying with the UFC and taking the fight with Zubaira. Then he got pulled from the fight. I thought, 'oh my god, I stayed with the UFC and took a pay cut compared to other offers just to fight him and now I don't get to fight him?' I have to get him back."

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