Usman Nurmagomedov says he wants to “follow in the footsteps” of his cousin Khabib before his Bellator debut on Friday. The Russian, who has won all 11 of his professional MMA fights, faces Mike Hamel in a lightweight bout at Bellator 255, which will be broadcast live on iPlayer.
Khabib is regarded as one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time after retiring from the sport last year with a perfect 29-0 record. “It’s very motivational for me to fight under the Nurmagomedov name,” Usman told BBC Sport.
“I want to follow in Khabib’s footsteps, follow his journey and eventually become a better version of him.” Usman signed with US-based MMA promoter Bellator in October after an impressive start to his career. The 22-year-old has finished 10 of his 11 professional fights by submission or knockout, with seven of them coming in the first round.
He regularly trains with former UFC lightweight champion Khabib and says the experience is the perfect preparation for his fights, both physically and mentally.
“I spend my entire training camp with Khabib,” said Usman. “It’s very hard work to compete and train with him. So after training camp has finished, it feels very easy to train and fight with other people. “I learn everything from Khabib. Whenever I want to know or learn something, Khabib is there.”
’15 fights in one day’
Khabib has said that a key reason in his decision to retire was to honour the memory of his father and coach Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, who died in July following complications arising from Covid-19.
Usman, who was also trained by Abdulmanap, paid tribute to his uncle. “He taught me everything, not only as a fighter, but as a person too,” said Usman.“He taught me how to talk to people, how to treat people, he taught me everything.
“I’m missing him a lot.” Usman started wrestling at the age of eight before being introduced to MMA at 11 years old. When he was 18, Usman recalls a time when Abdulmanap took him to compete in a combat sambo tournament, where he ended up fighting a remarkable 15 times in one day.
Combat sambo is a form of martial arts popular in Russia. “I thought I was fighting in one weight division at 62kg,” said Usman. “Then Abdulmanap came to me and said that I would be fighting in three different weight divisions that day. I said, ‘OK, no problem.’
“I kept winning, so after every 15 minutes, I would get another fight and then another.” Usman says that if Abdulmanap was here today, he would be helping him research his opponent on Friday.
“He would be with me right now and the first thing he would do is watch fights of my opponent and then make decisions about how to proceed. “One thing for sure he would tell me is after a win, to stay calm and not get emotional.”
Aside from Khabib, Usman has a number of relatives who are professional MMA fighters, including Umar Nurmagomedov and Abubakar Nurmagomedov. Usman says it’s the drive to compete which attracts his family and other Dagestani fighters to MMA.
“Of course we have a choice – I have cousins who are doctors and dentists – but I chose to be a fighter because I love the competition,” said Usman. “The hunger and the feeling to be competitive is in our blood and it’s been passed on generation by generation.”
Bellator 255 is the first event to be shown as part of the BBC’s broadcast deal to exclusively show Bellator MMA live in the UK throughout 2021. Usman’s fight against American Hamel on Friday is second on the main card. The main event is a showdown between Patricio Freire and Emmanuel Sanchez for the Bellator featherweight title.