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John Kavanagh defends Artem Lobov in passionate Facebook essay after UFC Fight Night 138 loss

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Does Artem Lobov belong in the UFC? That question has been asked by fans and experts alike ever since he joined the promotion following a failed bid on “The Ultimate Fighter” as a member of training partner Conor McGregor’s team in 2015.

It’s intensified in the wake of his latest defeat.

On Saturday night, Lobov (13-15-1 MMA, 2-5 UFC) dropped a unanimous decision to Michael Johnson in the FS1-televised UFC Fight Night 138 co-main event for his third straight loss. The result worsened his sub-.500 record, which critics point to in wondering why he’s still with the UFC. They claim it’s because of his friendship with McGregor and serving as his primary sparring partner for several years.

SBG Ireland head coach John Kavanagh has heard enough of this. On Sunday, he wrote a long essay on Facebook in defense of Lobov. While Kavanagh admitted to writing “partially from a position of emotion,”he urged critics to ignore Lobov’s relationship with McGregor and look deeper than just his win-loss record.

“Every fight was the toughest fight he could possibly find,” Kavanagh said. “Often times we would argue about that as I would try and guide him a little bit. He did not want to know. It is absolutely not the most efficient approach if you want to get to the (big organizations). It’s one I’ve learned from, but it’s also one that is impossible not to respect.”

Kavanagh continued, “I believe his performances in the cage against the highest level opposition in the world is worthy of a lot more respect that it gets. I don’t think Artem has the skills to be a UFC world champion. I can be honest and state that, but he 100 percent has earned the respect of his fellow fighters and shown, independently, he earned his spot on that stage.”

You can read Kavanagh’s unedited Facebook post in its entirety below:

Artem Lobov is only in the UFC because of his relationship with Conor McGregor. Maybe. Only for Conor he would not have been brought back after his preliminary loss on the Ultimate Fighter and, who knows, maybe quit. He has a losing record and just suffered another loss last night. If it’s just records you’re interested in, if someone’s win/loss record is as deep as your analysis is capable of then I’d stop reading now. Actually if you’ve never really tried to achieve anything yourself and instead enjoy making snide remarks and commentating on where the ‘the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better’ then I recommend Chuck Mindenhall’s recent article.

But if you are interested in a sincere argument, one which we may disagree on at the end, then continue. I would just ask that you are honest and base your points on logic rather than your dislike for his high profile teammate. So does Artem deserve to be in the UFC based on his own merits? Should he be cut after another loss? Well firstly, if losses against high level opposition were the only criteria for being cut then you’d be quickly left with just 2 in each weight class. Sounds obvious but on every fight card HALF the fighters lose. Cut them all?

So dont cut fighters who lose more than they win? Obviously not. Someone like CM Punk who although ‘entertaining’ clearly could not compete at the UFC level. His last fight was against someone who was 1-0 as an amateur and 0-2 as a pro. For his own health he needs to fight much lower level competition. So is Artem similar? Very low skill level but has a famous mate? Well let’s look at the evidence starting with last night. I’ve been a big fan of MJ for years now. Ran over LW ‘in the title mix’ Poirer in less than 2mins. Beat the very skilled Tony Ferguson and Edson Barboza. So surely when the once no.5 ranked LW in the world fought Artem it was going to be a complete mismatch? Then how is it after 2 rounds 2 judges had it even going into the 3rd. Round 3 was close until MJ snatched it with a terrific takedown. Well done and great win. But that’s not the point. One could hardly argue it was a one sided beat down.

What about his run on the Ultimate Fighter. Impossible to argue he did not catch a lucky break getting the ‘Wildcard’. But what did he do with that break? KO’d 3 guys in a row to fight on the finale. Only a handful of fighters on the planet have been able to achieve a run on TUF like that.

What happened when he met ‘perennial contender’ Cub Swanson. BJJ Blackbelt and aggressive creative striker with huge amount of experience at one of the best training camps in the world. Artem only got that main event slot because of Conor right? He was going to be badly exposed and KO’d or Sub’d in a minute or two right? Wrong. 25 tough minutes where Artem had his moments and jointly earned ‘fight of the night’ award. Although he ultimately lost, to say it looked like he did not belong in the UFC would be to speak with emotion because you dislike him/Conor rather than fact based on performance.

Artem is a rare breed of fighter. A fighters’ fighter. I’ve had conversations with top brass in the top organisations and they tell me it doesn’t matter who your guys fight, just get them winning records and we’ll take them on. That’s all that matters and has been commonplace in professional boxing for a long long time. Get them to 12-0 and we’ll sign them. That’s not Artem’s approach. Every fight was the toughest fight he could possibly find. Often times we would argue about that as I would try and guide him a little bit. He did not want to know. It is absolutely not the most efficient approach if you want to get to the ‘big organisations’. It’s one I’ve learned from but it’s also one that is impossible not to respect.

I’ll admit I’m writing this partially from a position of emotion. Artem is a friend and because I know about his incredibly tough life, I really hope he writes a book one day as it’d be far more interesting than the book I put out, it stings more than most. Plus his genuine ‘anyone, anytime’ attitude, often cited….so rarely true cannot help but impress the fan in me. As a training partner he will be incredibly tough on you, ruthlessly honest and would give you his last euro if you needed it. However that being said, I believe his performances in the cage against the highest level opposition in the world is worthy of a lot more respect that it gets. I don’t think Artem has the skills to be a UFC World Champion, I can be honest and state that but he 100% has earned the respect of his fellow fighters and shown, independently, he earned his spot on that stage. He understands the business and knows how to build a fight and always brings an exciting contest. Love him, hate him fans are always engaged when the Russian Hammer is on a card. I do not know what is next for him. Maybe he will decide to put his masters in finance or his fluency in 5 languages to use in the corporate world but if he fights again I will proudly stand behind him holding his bucket.

As a bonus for getting through my Sunday Morning rant/sermon here’s a clip of Artem doing what nobody else has been able to do – spar and push Conor for nearly 10yrs on a weekly basis. It’s from over 7 years ago when nobody had nothing and Artem had hair haha.

*edit made to correct CM Punk’s opponent’s record. i should have fact checked more thoroughly. I, like anyone else in the MMA business, am grateful that he was brave enough to fight in the UFC which ultimately led to more fans in the sport which means more money for its athletes.

For complete coverage of UFC Fight Night 138, check out the UFC Events section of the site.



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