Muhammad Ali is considered “The Greatest” boxer to ever step foot in the ring.
Khabib Nurmagomedov has quickly evolved into arguably the best mixed martial artist to ever grace the cage. The 31-year-old, 155-pound UFC champion has amassed a 28-0 record with 18 finishes, and he’s been hearing a heap of praise allotted to him of late for his world-class showings.
Although both fighters are considered to be the best of their disciplines, and Muslims, Nurmagomedov, who is Russian, does not believe the comparisons to Ali are warranted.
“I think comparing Ali and me is probably wrong. Only if we talk about the fact that we are both champions and both Muslims,” Nurmagomoedov told True Gym MMA in Russian. “But all the things he did outside the ring, with them I can’t be compared.”
Ali is one of the most iconic figures of the 20th century. The three-time heavyweight champion challenged the status quo with his outspoken political activism. Ali’s stance as a sport’s figure was seminal, especially when he refused to be drafted into the military for the Vietnam War because of his religious beliefs. He was later exiled from boxing for three-and-a-half-years due to his beliefs.
“Indeed, at the time he was a champion,” continued Nurmagomedov. “He was another race, and at that time in America, Black people were treated badly. And according to his stories, he was not even served in restaurants. He threw away the [1960 Olympics] gold medal [he’d won]. He changed the attitude toward his race very much, so we can’t be compared. To be able to be compared with him, I need to go back to those years and be Black and be a champion. Afterward, we would see how I would behave in such a situation. In this case, we can not be compared. I like that people compare us, but I think it is inappropriate.”
Nurmagomedov will next fight in Abu Dhabi on Oct. 24 when he challenges interim champion Justin Gaethje as the main event for UFC 254.
Manouk Akopyan is a sports journalist and member of the Boxing Writers Assn. of America since 2011. He has written for the likes of the LA Times, Guardian, USA Today, Philadelphia Inquirer, Men’s Health and NFL.com. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube at @ManoukAkopyan or via email at manouk[dot]akopyan[at]gmail.com.