Khabib Nurmagomedov and Muhammad Ali have two things in common: They’re both champions and Muslims.
Aside from those, however, Nurmagomedov doesn’t think there are any other similarities and considers it a sign of disrespect to Ali, the legendary boxing champion who died in 2016, that they would be compared.
“I like that people compare us, but I think it is inappropriate,” Nurmagomoedov told True Gym MMA in Russian.
Ali, who won an Olympic gold medal before winning the WBA, WBC and The Ring heavyweight titles in 1964 at age 22, is considered by many to be the greatest boxer of all time and one of the most important figures of the 20th century for his political activism during the turbulent 1960s. Ali spoke out against racial injustice, and in 1966 – two years after becoming the youngest heavyweight champ in history – refused to be drafted into the military because of his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War, which forced him to be stripped of his titles and serve prison time after being convicted of draft evasion. He didn’t fight for three-and-a-half years, as a result.
The Nurmagomedov comparisons to Ali would seem to stem from the fact that Nurmagomedov, who’s become a global star in recent years, currently might be the most dominant fighter in the world, with a perfect 28-0 record that includes a 12-0 mark in the UFC. Nurmagomedov, however, doesn’t think athletic achievements alone are enough to warrant comparisons.
“All the things he did outside the ring, with them I can’t be compared,” Nurmagomedov said. “Indeed, at the time he was a champion. 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 gold medal. He changed the attitude toward his race very much, so we can’t be compared.”
Nurmagomedov, 31, is set to return to the cage Oct. 24 when he takes on interim champ Justin Gaethje in a 155-pound title unification bout at UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi.