The decision to retire from combat sports is rarely ever an easy one, and it often feels like every fighter reaches that conclusion through their own seperate set of circumstances. For some, injuries are the biggest factor. For others, losses and the realization that they’re no longer going to be afforded opportunities to compete with the best talent in the world. And a few, the call to coaching, or broadcasting, or other business interests can supplant the desire to compete.
In a recent interview with the MMA Hour, longtime Conor McGregor training partner – and former UFC featherweight – Artem Lobov talked about his own path to hanging up the gloves. Unsurprisingly, the Russian-born fighter out of Ireland admitted that the decision wasn’t at all an easy one (transcript via MMA Fighting).
“The thing for me is this was a very big decision for me,” Lobov revealed. “I feel like I’m not going to be one of those guys that comes back in and out of it. It was a decision that I thought about for a long time. It was a difficult decision for me to make. I actually love fighting. I love this sport. I love this life. When I made that decision and it was like f-ck, this is it. It felt like all my dreams had [been] crushed. I know I have a lot of losses, but even when I lost sometimes, I was like this is just a minor setback. This is just a setback. I will get better. I will train harder. I will go again. I will try again, and I will come back and I will achieve the goals that I set out to achieve.
“So now this time when I retired, I had to come to this point where I said to myself, ‘Well, that’s it. You will not achieve those goals. It will not happen for you. You weren’t good enough. You didn’t manage to get where you wanted to get. This is it now for you as a fighter. Time to hang them up, Artem. Bye-bye.’ It was an emotional time for me.”
Lobov went on to explain that the final goal of his career, which had been driving him to keep competing, was the hope of scoring a million dollar payday in the boxing world—off the back of his bare knuckle fighting success. The 35-year-old went 2-1 with BKFC following his exit from the UFC, including a shocking upset win over former WBA welterweight champion Paulie Malignaggi.
The SBG Ireland trained fighter parlayed those fights into a bare knuckle boxing bout against former Olympic silver medalist Denys Berinchyk, back in July of 2021. Lobov lost via TKO after being unable to answer the bell for the start of the 5th round. That coupled with a corner stoppage loss to Jason Knight back in his final BKFC bout in 2019 seems to have finally driven home the idea that juice was no longer worth the squeeze. Especially not when considering the impact that fighting can have on an athlete’s longterm health.
“Another reason was the brain damage,” Lobov admitted. “It’s been in the news the last couple of years. It’s something that I certainly paid attention to a lot, and I realized that I’m going to need my health. I’m probably not going to make enough money fighting to just [last] me a lifetime, so I’m going to have to be doing something else so for that I need a good, working brain.
“On top of that, I have a kid now, who I would like to be a good father to. Be a grandfather to his children one day. So all these things combined, I was just like mate, it’s probably time to get up and go pursue something else while you’re still young and energetic and know what’s what. That’s why I made that decision.”
As for what could possibly get Lobov back in the ring? He may sound fairly set in his decision to retire, but did have two conditions whereby he’d make a return.
The first? That seven-figure payday he was hoping to land. The second? A fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov training partner Zubaira Tukhugov. Tukhugov was part of the infamous post-UFC 229 brawl, where members of the ‘Eagle’’s entourage swarmed the cage and attacked McGregor—following the Irishman’s loss to Nurmagomedov in the main event.
“I don’t care if I’m retired or not. I always want that fight no matter what.”