'As long as my heart is beating, I ain’t quitting' – Artem Lobov on his UFC odyssey
Artem Lobov is well known on the European MMA circuit as for being the guy to take a fight against anybody, anywhere and even at any weight. More recently we’ve seen him grace UFC video content as the ever present training partner of Conor McGregor.
Lobov campaigned for the longest time to try and get his shot at the UFC. Although he was always willing to take fights, the results didn’t always go his way.
When he tried out for The Ultimate Fighter during the summer of 2015 his professional record was 11 wins, 10 losses, one draw and a single no contest; usually not good enough to get a contract with the world’s largest MMA promotion.
However, when the opportunity knocked, Lobov kicked the door down and charged in.
Having been eliminated from the competition, the Russian-Irishman was offered a back door and three KO’s later found himself in the Final in Las Vegas, two nights before McGregor would unify the featherweight titles.
Losing the final was bittersweet. Though he fell at The Ultimate Fighter’s final hurdle, he knew that his UFC race was only really beginning.
“It was disappointing the way I lost (in the final), it wasn’t even a fight. I come to entertain, this is my trademark. When you see ‘Artem Lobov’ on the card you know my name alone is worth paying the money. But it didn’t happen that way that night so I was disappointed in that sense,” Lobov explained
He went on: “I knew straight away as a TUF finalist that I’d get a second chance. I trained all through Christmas because I knew I was going to get a fight soon. I was looking to get in there as soon as possible, so it all forgotten now and I’m just ready to take on this next challenge.”
Despite having a so-so record and being told by the UFC to go out and rack up some wins, Lobov never lost heart. He pitched up at events all over Europe chasing his dream.
“A lot of people don’t understand how MMA works. A lot of people don’t know how easy it is to get to 10-0 and not have ever fought anyone (good). No-one wants to fight, everyone pads their records and then they get into the UFC," he says.
Lobov believes very few fighters on the regional circuit go looking for hard fights to prove themselves. They prefer to rack up some easy wins. Their cosmetic record gets the attention of the big show and they’re in.
Despite what his record says Lobov believes he is in the UFC on merit - “If you ask anyone on the street would they fight for €50,000 they’d say ‘yes’. I fought when the money was nothing; for €200 or when I believed the challenge was hard or when nobody else would put their hand up. But I did every damn time because I truly love fighting, I am a true fighter a true warrior and that’s why I’m in the UFC.”
Was there a point where he thought he’d never make it?
“In my life and in my career I’ve fallen down many, many times," he admits.
"But every damn time I pick myself up, dust myself off and I keep moving forward because as long as my heart is beating in my body I ain’t quitting. I was determined to keep fighting and whatever happens, happens. I’ve always taken every fight I’ve been offered, if I got offered two or three fights I always took the hardest. That’s the way I was gonna keep going and then whatever happens, happens.”
The teak-tough fighter didn’t beat himself up to much over the TUF Finale loss. With the three knockouts during the season he figured he’d a golden ticket in his pocket.
He also knows the UFC values entertaining fighters.
The eventually winner, Ryan Hall is an accomplished Brazilian Jiu Jitsu player. Everyone knows Artem has heavy hands and can knock anyone out on his night. Hall’s tactics may have won him the TUF trophy but didn’t impress Lobov in the slightest.
“In my fight he didn’t even throw a jab. He threw a few flicky kicks and every time I stepped forward he fell to his back over and over and over again. If you’re gonna be in the Ultimate Fighting Championship you have to fight. I respect jiu Jitsu, I’ve been humbled by this martial art many times but if you want to just grapple do a BJJ tournament. People who come to watch the UFC, come to watch fights. You have to provide a fight and you have to entertain” explained Lobov.
Would he ever consider being more tactical and forsake his relentless search for the knockout? An emphatic no.
“You be as sure as hell that every time I fight on the card I going for the knockout.”
Considering the time that he has invested with McGregor, ‘The Notorious’ gets to give a little back. Both men have been training side by side at Straight Blast Gym.
“We’ve been training together all through Christmas. He had to go to Vegas to do the press conference. He’s back tonight so we’ll both go back at it.”
Lobov makes his UFC debut proper at UFC 196 in Las Vegas on February 6th. He faces Alex White and the Russian-Irishman has a feeling he knows how it’ll go: “He’s tall southpaw like Martin Svenson (who he KO’d in the 2nd of their fight 2013) so I see the fight going like that 1st or 2nd round knockout.”
You can watch Lobov in action at UFC 196: Werdum vs. Velasquez live on UFC Fight Pass from 11:15pm GMT on Saturday, Feb 6. Televised coverage of UFC 196 begins on BT Sport (part of the Setanta Pack in Ireland) from 1am GMT.