Artem Lobov is the hardest hitting featherweight in the world, a little dealer’s insight he shared a couple of years back while making an appearance on The MMA Hour. That could very well be the case, but all seven of the fighters he’s faced in the UFC thus far — including Michael Johnson, whom he attempted to punch on numerous occasions Saturday night in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada — have had but little trouble staying awake to hear the judge’s scorecards. Everyone has been able to take Lobov’s best shot and live to tell about it.
Five of them actually beat Lobov, the UFC’s version of the chupacabra. He has become that fabled creature that is mostly a folk tale, but obviously real enough — even at 14-15-1 — to keep stealing profile slots on cards right under our noses. The only thing everyone can agree on is that he’s nocturnal and feeds on GOATs, and that he’s endeared himself in some small way to the fight public via a rare combination of delusion and just enough innocence to never see it.
The truth is, Lobov’s affiliation with Conor McGregor and the SBG team has bought him so many chances that it’s become a game to see how far he can push mediocrity through a merit-based system. To turn the old blind eye on his glaring five-hundredness, and anoint him as the greatest that ever was. When Lobov says he’s going to destroy somebody like Johnson — or Andre Fili or Cub Swanson — the idea is to play up his invincibility, and encourage him. To meet his straight face with a straight face.
For some reason the UFC makes this game incredibly easy; when Lobov raised his record to 13-12-1 last April after a pair of decision victories, the UFC gave him a main event slot in Nashville against Swanson. We all had a good laugh at that one, except for the citizens of Nashville who had to have been wondering just what in the actual hell was going on.
Yet if Lobov has gotten this far as…as what?…as McGregor’s training partner? His ventriloquist dummy?…it’s too bad we couldn’t have seen the fight we were supposed to on Saturday night. Lobov was booked to face Zubaira Tukhugov, the man who sucker punched McGregor after UFC 229, which was about the most fascinating set-up for a fight that Lobov could ever hope for. Why? Because, as an extension of McGregor’s larger war with Khabib Nurmagomedov, he was perfectly cast into a meaningful fight for a change. He had a mission to carry out, to exact some revenge for his fallen general. He was the next chapter in a big-picture narrative that could potentially make him a hero.
After all, it was Lobov’s beef with Nurmagomedov at UFC 223 that prompted McGregor to hop across the Atlantic and try to throw a dolly through a bus window. Lobov is at the white-hot center of the war. He should’ve been able to participate in it.
Instead, Tukhugov was unceremoniously yanked from the bout to avoid any unnecessary complications (boooo!), and Lobov was left with Johnson. Why Johnson? Because Lobov — enjoying the perks of the McGregor brand — was given the choice on who to face. Lobov selected Johnson, and he took everything else in stride. In fact, when Johnson missed weight and was ordered to give 20 percent of his purse to Lobov, “The Russian Hammer” steadfastly refused. He said he respected Johnson too much to take the cut. That was the kind of friendly gesture that makes it hard to hate on Lobov. He’s a fighter’s fighter, who just so happens to be entitled. In that way, he’s unique.
Anyway, he went out and lost. It wasn’t a particularly exciting fight, but then again none of them are. Lobov kept his posture straight and his hands low and tried to evaporate Johnson with his power source of a left hand, but couldn’t quite connect. Johnson was able to remain elusive enough to avoid any trouble, while pinging Lobov plenty in the exchanges. Johnson has now won two in a row after having lost five of his previous six bouts. Guaranteed he won’t be in a main event his next time out.
Had it been Lobov, such guarantees couldn’t be made. As an extension of Conor McGregor’s — a fighter with all the bark and bombast, but little of the bite — Lobov only needs to win on occasion to keep his mythological standing as the greatest sub-.500 to ever take off his shoes. In fact, he remains that way even in defeat. If the UFC keeps him around for another go, forget about merit for a minute and remember the game.
The key is to meet his straight face with a straight face, for Artem Lobov is the hardest hitting featherweight in the world.