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Khabib Nurmagomedov: The 21st century Muhammad Ali?

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UFC Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov has established himself as one of the most popular men in combat sports. Not only that, he has easily become the most influential Muslim sports personality.

So much so that people have started to compare him to the late boxing legend Muhammad Ali.

The Russian superstar might not like the comparison, however, because as a huge Ali fan himself, Khabib believes no one could ever come close to the people’s champion, and he might be right. But, Khabib has that same Ali-like charm.

Ali was a great talker, and so is Khabib when he is speaking Russian. English isn’t the UFC champion’s best friend so it is obvious he would never be able to express himself fluently. In his own language, he is a different person.

Khabib did not become an instant success. He has had his time away from the spotlight, but he reached unprecedented heights when he beat – and not only beat but mauled – Conor McGregor, who is possibly the biggest combat sports star today.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n89NiB_fjdY

With his win over McGregor, Khabib not only became popular, he also got more fans. The entire build-up was Khabib being the hero and the Irish star being the villain, and that made it way more interesting. What added fuel to the fire was McGregor’s comments against Khabib’s religion, his father and his country.

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McGregor hit some sour notes, and got the beating he might not have expected. Khabib was more serious than he had ever been inside the octagon, and sent a strong message that he would never compromise on his principles, much like Ali back in the day.

Ali was imprisoned and fined for refusing to fulfill military obligations, and Khabib said he would give up on his UFC career if his friend Zubaira Tukhugov is terminated from the organization after the UFC 229 post-fight melee.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQdOJvs26r4

Both also have a huge fan base, especially in the Muslim world. Ali is loved and cherished to date by Muslims around the world, and so is Khabib. The Russian was invited by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt for different events which proves that he is an icon and a positive representation of Muslims across the world.

There’s one particular event from Ali’s life that is identical to Khabib’s fight with McGregor. In 1969, when Ali fought Ernie Terell, who had known Ali for when he was Cassius Clay, refused to call him by his new name knowing the motivation behind it. Ali, during their fight, kept on punching Ernie in the face and asked “What’s my name?”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8ZZmkNo6-o

Same happened during Khabib’s fight with McGregor. The Irishman, who is known for his talk and getting into his opponent’s heads, had struck some sour notes, including offering Khabib whiskey knowing that it would offend the Russian.

During the fight, as Khabib rained down punches from top position, he repeatedly told McGregor “Let’s talk now”, asserting that this is how he likes to talk: with his fists.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHsml-vNtEw

While their fight styles might be different, both Ali and Khabib are similar in more ways than not. The biggest similarity being that disrespecting them costs a lot.

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