Umar Nurmagomedov not overlooking debuting foe

    LAS VEGAS – Umar Nurmagomedov understands he’s walking into something of a trap fight at UFC Fight Night 238, but he won’t allow himself to fail.

    After searching far and wide for a ranked bantamweight to fight on Saturday at the UFC Apex (ESPN+), Nurmagomedov (16-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC) had to settle with any matchup he could get. That turned out to be promotional newcomer Bekzat Almakhan (14-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC), who comes in as a massive underdog.

    On paper, this should be a showcase bout for the undefeated rising star. Nurmagomedov understands those expectations, and that’s why he didn’t take preparation lightly.

    “I didn’t think this fight was going to be an easy fight for me and I didn’t train like it,” Nurmagomedov told MMA Junkie and other reporters at UFC Fight Night 238 media day. “I trained very hard. I trained like I’m fighting for the title. I’m not sleeping. For my opponent, it’s a big opportunity. I think he’s doing a very great job. We’ll see this Saturday.”

    Nurmagomedov was scheduled for his breakthrough opportunity in a main event against Cory Sandhagen in August. However, he suffered a serious shoulder injury in training that forced him to withdraw, which cost him his big chance.

    He couldn’t get the same stature of opponent for this date, and some fans think that’s just fine. There’s a narrative around Nurmagomedov that he’s getting fast-tracked because of his name and association with UFC Hall of Famer Khabib Nurmagomedov, but the 28-year-old has a different perspective.

    “They’re just talking about, ‘He doesn’t deserve, he hasn’t beaten nobody.’ – how didn’t I beat nobody?” Nurmagomedov said. “(I’m) 4-0 in the UFC, it’s not bad. How many fighters begin like this? I don’t want to be cocky. I don’t want to say, ‘I’m the top, I’m high level.’ … I talk about that somebody will come to UFC and show a good performance and he smashed all his opponents, that means they have to fight with somebody strong. You can’t say, ‘He didn’t deserve, he has to fight somebody.’ How am I going to beat somebody? Like Merab (Dvalishvili) talks about this: How am I going to beat somebody if they don’t (accept) the fight.”

    Nurmagomedov admits the difficulty in getting top-tier opponents to fight him somewhat inflated his ego. However, he thinks he’s channeled all that effectively, and will walk into UFC Fight Night 237 with his head in the right place.

    “They make me think I’m the champion in this (when they turn down fights),” Nurmagomedov said. “Then I’m going to gym and Khabib (Nurmagomedov) or someone else smashes me, and they bring me down to earth. I hope they will take these fights and approve someone in the top five after this fight.”

    For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC Fight Night 238.

    Be sure to visit the MMA Junkie Instagram page and YouTube channel to discuss this and more content with fans of mixed martial arts.

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