It's been a rough couple of years for Khabib Nurmagomedov. The undefeated Dagestani was widely regarded as the next man to take the lightweight throne in 2014, but the MMA gods had other plans.
Nurmagomedov, who beat current 155 lbs. champ Rafael dos Anjos at UFC on Fox 11, was forced to withdraw from his #1 contender bout with Donald Cerrone after suffering a knee injury. From then on, the 27-year-old found himself battling with a series of ongoing injuries that threatened his career. Khabib contemplated retirement last year but says a certain bantamweight inspired him to persevere.
Newly-crowned 135 lbs. champion Domnick Cruz, who was forced to vacate the title in 2014, almost suffered a familiar fate to Nurmagomedov when a torn ACL threatened everything he had worked for. From 2011-2014, "The Dominator" was forced to sit on the sidelines healing wounds while the bantamweight landscape evolved without him.
Cruz returned with a vengeance against Takeya Mizugaki -- KO'ing the veteran in the 1st round -- at UFC 178 but was struck by another injury shortly after the bout. The 30-year-old bit down on his mouthpiece and returned against T.J. Dillashaw to reclaim his relinquished title at UFC Fight Night 81 last week.
Nurmagomedov hailed Cruz as a major source of inspiration on the latest edition of The MMA Hour.
"These two years, almost two years, were very hard time for me," Nurmagomedov said Tuesday on The MMA Hour. "I think people don't understand it. I think this is understand only (by) Dominick Cruz. Dominick Cruz understands my mind, what I feel. Everything. This is only one guy who understands me, that I'm very hungry."
"The Eagle" would like to meet the champion in person to discuss how he maintained such a strong mindset.
"I've never spoken with him, I've never meet this guy, but you know, this guy is one of the greatest of all-time and I want to meet him. I speak with Daniel Cormier about him. Daniel Cormier say he's very good guy, very humble, and he understands MMA very good. I think that's why his mental (strength), in my opinion, is very tough. Nobody can beat him about mental (strength), and I think that's why he comes back very strong."
(Transcripts via Shaun Al-Shatti of MMA Fighting)