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Irish fighter believes he's closer to a UFC contract following TUF 22 debut

Artem Lobov is Conor McGregor’s main sparring partner.

Artem Lobov in action against Mehdi Baghdad during the preliminary round of fights for TUF 22.
Artem Lobov in action against Mehdi Baghdad during the preliminary round of fights for TUF 22.
Image: Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC

HE MAY HAVE been born in Russia but Artem Lobov had the Irish flag beside his name when he featured on last night’s first episode of season 22 of The Ultimate Fighter.

Lobov has been based in Ireland for the past 12 years and is a team-mate of the likes of Cathal Pendred, Conor McGregor and Gunnar Nelson at SBG in Dublin.

The 29-year-old has picked up plenty of big wins on the regional circuit in recent years, but his ultimate aim is to make his way into the top tier of mixed martial arts — the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Lobov edged closer to achieving that this summer when he was selected as one of the 32 contestants for TUF 22, which features Conor McGregor and Urijah Faber as coaches of European and US lightweight teams respectively.

The series premiered last night on BT Sport 2, but there was disappointment for Lobov at the first hurdle as he lost via majority decision against Frenchman Mehdi Baghdad.

Nevertheless, Lobov earned plenty of praise for a typically brave and entertaining performance, with UFC president Dana White remarking: “I love Artem’s style.”

“People always talk about UFC jitters with your first fight in the UFC. I know this wasn’t quite a UFC fight, but still… seeing Dana White there, you’re thinking this is it now,” said Lobov.

“And then the atmosphere there is a little bit weird because it’s so quiet in the gym. Apart from a few family members there are no spectators there. I would like to have been a little bit calmer because I’m usually quite calm in my fights, but I wasn’t so much in this one.”

Lobov was unfortunate to be paired with a fighter who’s seen by many as one of the favourites to win the series. Mehdi Baghdad is a regular Black House training partner of fighters such as Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida, and he entered the show on the back of consecutive wins for top US promotion RFA.

Lobov said: “If I’m honest, I probably was expecting someone easier than that. Common sense would suggest to me that they would want me in the house; obviously with me being Conor’s main sparring partner, it’s just good TV. It just makes it that little bit more interesting.

“So I thought, right, they’re probably going to give me an easy enough guy and I’m just going to knock him out quickly before moving on to the house. But that obviously wasn’t the case, which is kind of good because I’m sure when people did see my name there they probably thought this guy is going to get looked after now, so that wasn’t the case.”

CW70 Artem Lobov Source: Dolly Clew

The defeat was a bitter pill for Lobov to swallow, particularly when you take into account the fact that Martin Svensson — a fighter Lobov defeated via second-round TKO less than two years ago — managed to progress to the next stage.

“It was good for me to see guys I’ve already fought being there,” said Lobov. “They picked the best guys from Europe and I was the only guy there who had fought a few of those guys already. That just showed me what I already knew. I always looked for the toughest guys in Europe.

“When they moved into the house and I didn’t, I was happy for them. I shared great battles with them and I was happy for them. I couldn’t hate on those guys. They have the same dreams as I have so how could I dislike those guys?”

When asked if, in spite of the loss, Lobov feels his TUF experience has brought him closer to a UFC deal, he said: ”Definitely. Dana White has seen my fight and he seemed very pleased after it. I spoke to him a little bit and he felt that mine was the best fight out of all the ones to get into the house.

“At the end of the day, it’s the entertainment business and when it comes to entertainment, I do it better than most. I’ve had no clear indication or anything but he just said ‘I was very happy, that was a great fight’.”

Lobov added: ”I’m never in a boring fight, I even have grandmas jumping off their seats. Every single person who sees me fight says ‘I want to see that guy fight again,’ and hopefully Dana is going to say the same.”

Lobov was speaking to The42 yesterday in Dublin at a preview screening of the first episode of The Ultimate Fighter, which included his thrilling battle with Mehdi Baghdad.

As Baghdad landed a powerful head-kick which probably would have been enough to finish most opponents, Lobov — as he’s done so often in the past — just came back for more. Media members in attendance gasped as the blow landed. Lobov’s reaction?

“I eat that shit for breakfast.”

Whether it’s on this season of The Ultimate Fighter or not, you get the feeling that we may not have seen the last of Artem Lobov in the octagon.

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UFC athlete Aisling Daly and Ultimate Fighter contestant Artem Lobov attended Setanta Sports’ advance screening of the first episode in the latest series of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ featuring Conor McGregor. Episode one was shown at 3am on Wednesday night on BT Sport 2. Each subsequent episode will air at 10pm every Thursday thereafter on Setanta Ireland & BT Sport. The Setanta Sports Pack will also have exclusively live coverage of UFC 194: Aldo v McGregor on 12 December. Visit Setanta.com.

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Paul Dollery

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