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Lobov keen to capitalise on unexpected third bite at the cherry at UFC 202

The 30-year-old has been tasked with getting SBG Ireland off to a winning start this weekend in Las Vegas.

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The calm before the storm... #ufc202

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– Paul Dollery reports from Las Vegas

ARTEM LOBOV WAS already putting plans in place for life after the UFC when he was offered an opportunity that he hadn’t anticipated.

Lobov’s two-fight stint with the UFC had yielded unanimous-decision defeats to Ryan Hall and Alex White. He had failed to perform on both occasions so a chance to make it third-time lucky seemed unlikely.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to get another shot,” Lobov admits. “I was prepared to go elsewhere to fight. I actually had a fight lined up for a Russian promotion against one of the best unsigned featherweights in the world at the moment.

I contacted the UFC and said, ‘Okay guys, I understand, I know you’re probably going to release me because I’ve had two losses’. I just wanted to confirm so that I could go and take another fight instead.”

But that was when Lobov discovered that the UFC had a different take on the situation, and perhaps he can thank Nate Diaz for that. During an interview with Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour in May, Diaz proposed a bout between Lobov and Chris Avila, his stablemate at the Cesar Gracie Fight Team in California.

On 1 July, the fight was officially added to the bill for this Saturday’s UFC 202 in Las Vegas, which will be headlined by the rematch between Diaz and Lobov’s team-mate at SBG Ireland, Conor McGregor.

As was the case when he featured on The Ultimate Fighter last year, Lobov has benefited from a substantial slice of good fortune. He made the most of it in the TUF house and having spent the past six weeks preparing in Las Vegas, he’s determined to do so again.

“Obviously on the overall scale of things, Conor’s fight is bigger than any other fight. Conor has already proved himself — he’s a world champion — but I haven’t really proved anything yet. In that sense it’s a very big fight for me and a very important step in my career,” Lobov says.

The Ultimate Fighter: Team McGregor vs Team Faber Lobov landing a knee against Mehdi Baghdad on The Ultimate Fighter. Source: Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC

“The preparation has been the best of my life, for sure. I’ve given it everything I have. I’m not sure there was much else I could have done. For the first time in my life I’ve been working with specific sparring partners, something I’ve never done before, so I think this one should be good.”

Lobov’s performance against Alex White in February wasn’t dissimilar to McGregor’s against Diaz a month later. Desperate to fell his opponent with a knockout blow, the 30-year-old pursued the finish a little too eagerly and soon ran out of steam.

“Coming off three knockout wins on The Ultimate Fighter, I had something to prove because everyone was expecting a big knockout from me,” explains Lobov, who was born in Russia but moved to Dublin as a teenager.

You then expect that from yourself too, but when I went looking for that it wasn’t there. In this fight I’m going to let my technique take over and let all the training I have done do the work for me.”

The most frustrating thing, according to Lobov, was the sense that he hadn’t done himself justice. Having worked to reach the UFC since his MMA debut in 2010, his performances when he finally made it were among the most disappointing of his career.

“You couldn’t even say that the other guy had a great performance,” he says. “If you look at it, you can just say that Artem had a shit fight. That’s what it was. It wasn’t like he had much better skill and destroyed me. It was just a really bad fight to be a part of. It just didn’t come together.

“People say I should be experienced enough at this stage because I’ve had so many fights, but I always say that fighters don’t actually have the luxury of experiencing competing as much as athletes in other sports.

“I’ve had 30 fights and that is considered a lot, but if you look at football players, they have more than 30 games in one single season. That’s a lot of practice that they get to do and benefit from, which is something we don’t have.”

In contrast, Chris Avila (5-2) will be making his UFC debut against Lobov (11-12-1-1) in what will be his eighth professional bout. Diaz’s camp have pursued this fight but Lobov believes they’ll be regretting that decision on Saturday night.

“It looks to me like he’s trying to be a Diaz,” Lobov says. “He’s trying to copy their style, which is understandable because they’re part of the same team. But that’s a dangerous style to copy.

“As much as people say that Nate and Nick have unbelievable boxing, I certainly don’t think that’s the case. If you look at their fights, they always come out mangled. They get hit by a lot of shots. Their style relies so much on just being really, really tough and being able to absorb a lot of punishment.

That’s not a good style to have, especially if you’re facing someone like me. I’ll give him as much punishment as he wants but if that’s what he’s going to try and do, I don’t think he’s going to last too long.”

Diaz — who trains alongside UFC veterans like his brother Nick, Gilbert Melendez and Jake Shields — has often teased McGregor over his quality of training partners, but Lobov sees his meeting with Avila as a chance to hit back at those taunts.

“This is a perfect opportunity to respond, and it’s the way I want to respond,” he says. “They are the ones who suggested Chris Avila so they obviously feel confident in his skill.

“They’ve seen me fight before so they feel he has the tools to beat me. I certainly don’t think so and obviously those comments make it an even bigger point for me to prove.”

Lobov added: “This is team versus team. It’s not just a fight, it’s a war, so I’ll definitely do everything I can to get that first win and then we’ll continue it with Conor’s win later on.”

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Paul Dollery

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