Khabib Nurmagomedov


(Photo: Getty Images)

Prior to his fight against Conor McGregor two weeks ago, I had never heard of the 30-year-old Russian.

Now, I’m a huge, huge fan. What he did seconds after he forced McGregor to tap and quit — climbing the Octagon and inciting a near-rumble — was absolutely bad. It was bad for UFC, bad for mixed-martial arts, and bad for himself.

But remove that post-fight brouhaha and you’ve got a wrestling and ground-and-pound champion our planet Earth has never seen.

Conor anticipated the plan of the 5-foot-10 Khabib. It was to fight horizontally, not vertically. Khabib’s goal was to trip him so Conor falls. But despite trying to avoid that scenario, Conor fell prey. The grappling prowess of Nurmagomedov is incredible.

Khabib’s grappling ability started at a very young age. Did you see him wrestle with a real-life bear when he was nine years old? You have to watch that YouTube clip. His father and coach, Abdulmanap, explains that crazy act that happened in 1997 in Dagestan, Russia.

“Firstly, a child always wants his father to see what his son is capable of,” his dad said. “It is a pity that there was nothing more interesting when he was younger. In the end, this was a test of character more than exercise.”

All his life, Khabib — who’s a devout Muslim and is happily married with two kids — trained to be a fighter. And that’s why he sports a 27-win, no-loss record. (His number of wins could have been more had he not succumbed to knee and rib injuries from 2014 to 2016.)

What’s next? It depends on the sure penalty and suspension that the Las Vegas authorities and the UFC will announce. The hearing is set this Wednesday, Oct. 24.

On the reported Floyd Mayweather, Jr. boxing gig, this is crazy. The Floyd-Khabib fight will net each person tens of millions. But no way that Khabib can win. His strength lies when he lies on the floor — not while punching.

“Teammate or no teammate, he’s getting beat up by Floyd Mayweather,” said his friend Daniel Cormier. “And he’s too tough to quit, so he’ll just get beat up for 12 rounds, and getting beat up for 12 rounds is not good.”

My guess is that he’ll fight the 5-foot-11 California resident next. 

“As a fight fan, you’ve got to go with Tony (Ferguson),” said UFC’s Dana White. “Tony had the belt, tweaked his knee, got stripped, this fight happens — Tony never lost the (interim) belt in a fight. Neither did Conor, but Conor got the opportunity to actually fight (Nurmagomedov). I think Tony deserves the next shot.”

Ferguson deserves a shot but he’s got no shot at beating Khabib. Which brings us to a rematch later next year with Conor, The Notorious. And if their UFC 229 encounter two weeks ago netted over 2.4 million PPV buys, this Part 2 will exceed 4 million.

The winner? Both. From a marketing and loud-mouth viewpoint, it’s the Irishman. But inside that 8-sided cage, it’s hard to grapple with “The Eagle” losing.

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