Khabib Nurmagomedov talks exclusively to Sky Sports about Tyson Fury vs Francis Ngannou, boxing vs MMA, his transition from fighter to promoter with Eagle FC - and his meeting with Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United
Tuesday 15 February 2022 18:42, UK
Will Tyson Fury and Francis Ngannou stage a boxing vs MMA super-fight? What is the transition like from fighter to promoter? Khabib Nurmagomedov reveals all…
Could WBC champion Fury and UFC champion Ngannou meet somehow?
Nurmagomedov: "[Fury] is the best right now. I don't know. I think Fury is on a different level, in boxing. If they fight in the MMA of course, Ngannou has a chance now - we can see from his last fight.
"If they fight in the UFC yeah, Fury doesn't have too many chances. But in boxing, I don't see anyone even touching his face - maybe Oleksandr Usyk. Usyk is going to be a tough challenge for Fury.
"But Ngannou? I think he has to stay with the UFC. But if he goes to boxing and he's making 50 or 60 million dollars - he has to. Why not? I know Ngannou comes from a very, very poor life in Africa. He was with no money, no home, nothing. So if someone pays you more money then go and take.
"If you want to make history, become the greatest heavyweight of all time then you have to stay in UFC."
Ngannou's contract with the UFC is expiring…
Nurmagomedov: "I know one thing. If you sign a deal and you have a contract, you have to follow through. This is just my opinion. I am not against Francis, not against [UFC president Dana White] or UFC. I don't know what they have between them but I just want to give advice for fighters, for young fighters: when you guys sign a contract, you guys have to read your contracts.
"If you sign a deal, like a five-fight deal or a 10-fight deal or a six-fight deal, you have to complete your contract. I'm a religious guy so if you have a deal, you have to follow through with it.
"I hear now that the Ngannou deal is finished, his contract is finished - or something like this, I don't know, but it doesn't matter who… Frances, Khabib, Kamaru Usman…it doesn't matter. If you guys have a deal you have to follow through on it. If not, okay but before you sign read and watch. This is how I live. Even myself, if I have a deal, I have to follow this."
White did not put the title belt around Ngannou's waist amid reports of a falling out…
Nurmagomedov: "I don't know. Someone told me he went to the rest room or something like this. I don't know, honestly. I don't want to go in between these two guys, I think they're going to take care of this themselves. In my position, even if I have in my promotion someone I don't like and I'm supposed to put a belt on him, this is business. I'm going to go, put the belt on him and leave. This is my opinion."
You have set up Eagle FC, your own mixed martial arts organisation…
Nurmagomedov: "It was the first event for us in the US and it was number 44 around the world. I was doing all my shows in Russia and all USSR countries. And this was my first show on a big stage here in the US, in Miami Florida. And you know, it was a very good one, a very good one.
"The numbers were really good, we had almost 500,000 viewers live and after a couple of weeks, next month on the 11th March, I'm going to have another show. We're going to have another show, a big show, in the same arena and with a lot of good fighters, and I'm very excited about this. And we're going to have one more this year, on the 20th May. This year I want to make seven shows here in the US. I'm not even talking about other shows, like, how many I'm going to make in Russia but here in the US I'm going to make seven shows this year."
Describe the transition from fighter to coach to promoter…
Nurmagomedov: "I was doing this all my life. I am older in my team and I have to take over and control everything. Even when I was an active fighter, I was almost coaching because all these brothers - now they're still fighting, I'm retired now.
"And I'm older than all of them and I have to give them advice, I have to teach them, I have to coach them, you know. I was doing this all my life. And my father was a coach and I learnt from him a lot, so it wasn't hard.
"I feel like I have all this experience from before. This isn't like I was fighting and then from fighting I moved to coaching taking all my fighting experience. No, I was coaching before I became a UFC fighter. I was coaching for some children for four years in my father's gym and it was like 60 or 70 guys who I was training since 2008 and '09,' 10, 11.
"When I became a UFC fighter I stopped because my father told me to focus on my career. Now that I've finished that I just came back. Nothing new."
Does fighting experience help?
Nurmagomedov: "It helps me because I know what fighters think, I know how they feel. I know what they need. My experience, when I was a fighter, when I moved to promoting, my fighting career helped me a lot.
"Right now, I feel I am on the right way and I have so much ahead. Every day a lot of good fighters contact me and I'm very excited about Eagle FC and what is going on now. I really want to see what happens next February. I just want to see what happens after one year and where we are going to be, I'm very excited about this.
"I just want to become the best. I'm not here to become number three or number two. I'm here to become the best promoter in the world. And we have developed a new system. We're going to change a couple of things, not a lot and after a couple of years I think people are going to understand who is who."
What is your relationship like with Dana White?
Nurmagomedov: "I'm going to meet him at the end of this week. I'm going to go and watch some fights and I'm going to talk with him. He knows. I'm very good with Dana - all my life, when I was a fighter. I know a lot of fighters have a problem with him and all because of money.
"When I say in an interview or to my friends, I'm here to fight not for money. I'm here to fight for my legacy. A lot of people don't understand me. They misunderstand me. Now I understand why I have a good relationship with Dana, it's because I don't fight for money. That's why.
"I never asked Dana or UFC about things involving money. My manager was dealing with them. But I remember when I was supposed to fight the first time for the title, it was like in Brooklyn 2018, after the weigh in people were talking about money, how much they make. And I'm like "Ali [his manager], how much do I make for this fight?" He's like: "Are you serious?"
"I don't pay attention on these kinds of facts because I was here to become champion. I was here to win belts, defend belts. My goal was not to make money in this sport. But I don't want to judge guys who - most of them, almost all of them fight for money. Like, almost everybody. I don't want to judge them, they have to pay for things, take care of their families and children. I'm not against them, I'm talking about myself, I never fight for money."
How big can MMA be?
Nurmagomedov: "There's a lot of money in this sport, you know why? This is one of the most famous sports in the world right now. Now, MMA you have to say, UFC right now are close to football, American football, NBA, hockey. They're on the same level and nobody can say anything. This is the truth. I know so many famous athletes who are very big fans of UFC. Right now the UFC is the best and this is the truth."
You joined forces with Wahed Inc, a world-leading FinTech for ethical and halal investing…
Nurmagomedov: "For almost a year I've been working with Wahed, me and my team. I met with Wahed in Dubai a year ago, we signed a deal to work together. Wahed helps a lot of people who don't know how to invest money. They help a lot. And the most important reason why I signed with these guys is because this is halal. It's against riba (usury). Riba makes rich people more rich and poor people more poor. I know most of the people in the world don't pay attention about percentages and interest, but I was born with this belief, I grew up with this belief. That's why I signed with these guys and I'm very happy."
Why is this important to you?
Nurmagomedov: "Because me and Wahed follow the same rules. A lot of companies make offers to work with me but I cannot (work with them) because my religion says no. Wahed takes care of people, they take care of investments and are doing a good job against riba. Even now they have almost half a million people who have joined with them and I think step-by-step Wahed is going to become global, a very big company and a lot of people are going to know them and that's where I come in, my goal is to show people where you can go and make halal investments. This is very important right now."
Any plans to invest in Premier League?
Nurmagomedov: "Honestly, it's the best league in the world. There's nothing close. I love Spanish football, I love Italian football but nobody is close to the Premier League. Right now I'm not interested in investing in the Premier League but when I was young and when I was growing up, even now, I follow everything in the league. For me, it's not like UFC or boxing, nothing is close to football. Right now I'm not interested because I have my promotion business and I have so much to do.
Maybe in the future? Manchester United?
Nurmagomedov: In the Premier League, I'm not a big fan of just one club. I like Manchester United, I like City because I'm very close to Sheikh Mansour, and I know the owners of Leeds United and Everton. I have good relations everywhere and I don't want to choose one team, I follow everything.
You have a good relationship with Cristiano Ronaldo, what do you make of his second stint at Manchester United?
Nurmagomedov: "Boom boom boom. He's 37 years old, this is not his best age but even the way he plays. I think he affects the whole team, his energy, his experience… his advice. They have a very good strong team, a young team. Next year I think they're going to do a very good job. Next year. Because right now, so many new players are not connecting well but next year I think Manchester United are going to be a big problem for all clubs.
Do you think Ronaldo will stay at Manchester United next season?
Nurmagomedov: "Honestly, it's a good question. I'm going to talk to him because I still remember when he moved from Real Madrid, he told me a couple of months before he moved. And when he moved from Juventus, he told me. But I don't go to people and tell them.. this isn't for the media, I'm not a journalist! I'm not from Sky Sports! I'm going to ask him. I'm going to ask him. I'm going to ask him. Honestly, I want him to stay, I want him to stay. Honestly, that's what I want. If you guys ask my opinion? I want.
You met Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford, what happened?
Nurmagomedov: "Yes, that time I met Ferguson, Usain Bolt and Patrice Evra. It was amazing. It was a small room with Sir Alex Ferguson's family and friends, myself, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Usain Bolt… there was so much energy inside this small room. It was good, very good. Seeing Sir Alex Ferguson who I've been watching for 25 years.. since 1995 when I was six or seven years old as a kid. And now I'm like, okay, now I talk with this guy.
What did you speak about?
Nurmagomedov: "We talked about a lot. We talked about teams, about energy and about fighters' mentality and player mentality and how he dealt with it. He's old school, and my father was old school and his mentality is very close to mine. It was very fun. I love to see people who become successful and I like to talk to them about how, why… for what? The last time I met Rio Ferdinand, Paul Pogba, (Michael) Carrick, (Darren) Fletcher, Cristiano, all these guys… we stayed almost an hour at the hotel just talking about things for example, the night before a match or the night before a fight… I love to learn from people who become successful regardless of which sport. I feel like everywhere we have the same mentality, whether you're fighting or playing football or basketball, it doesn't matter. I think if you're strong mentally you can become a champion, it doesn't matter how many injuries you're going to get. If you're mentally broken, you can't become a champion."
Do you have any examples of what other high profile athletes have in common?
Nurmagomedov: "I talk about this a lot with Cristiano and Pogba too. I'm very close to Pogba and Karim Benzema. I talk to them a lot, and with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. All these guys... they're very strong mentally. There's no way you can become Zlatan if you're weak mentally. Look what this guy is doing, even now at 40. He's one of the best in the world. And he plays with Milan, they're number one in Italy right now. It's crazy. You have to be very, very strong... if you're weak, like one injury or two injuries.. eventually it's going to affect you and you're going to give up. Look how Zlatan is doing, how he plays. Of course, he doesn't play like a 20-year-old kid but he's experienced. How he uses his body, his experience, his knowledge, it's amazing."